April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this year’s theme – “Embrace Your Voice” – could not be timelier. In recent months, survivor stories have flooded news and social media with campaigns such as #metoo or #timesup. Many survivors are embracing their voices in a public way, calling for offenders to be held accountable, encouraging bystander intervention and acknowledging how widespread this issue is.
On average it takes individuals 10-20 years to disclose a sexual assault due to fear, confusion or self-blame. These movements and the publicity surrounding them are encouraging many survivors who have felt alone, afraid, or unsure of how to speak up to reach out for help no matter how much time has passed.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network noted a 21 percent increase in calls to their hotline as a result of the national conversation surrounding sexual violence. Our local statistics reflect that as well. In 2017 Rape Response experienced a 23 percent increase in the number of survivors served, and that number continues to grow.
While the widespread publicity has encouraged many, not all survivors feel safe or comfortable sharing their experience publicly. Hearing or reading victim blaming remarks has reiterated fears around disclosing – if survivors do share their experiences, how will others react? For some, the number of survivor stories in their newsfeed has felt overwhelming or triggered emotions related to their own experience.
To me, these movements and the widespread sharing of stories serve as a reminder that we can each choose not only to “embrace our voice,” but also how. Some survivors embrace their voices through reporting to law enforcement, speaking with an advocate on our crisis line or sharing their story with a trusted friend, therapist or support group. Others embrace their voices through journaling, music, art. In my job, I embrace my voice by advocating for survivors, using my words and actions to encourage and empower the voices of others.
No matter how you choose to embrace your voice, know that your voice matters, that you matter and that you are not alone.
To learn more about Rape Response services or to speak with an Advocate, visit our website at www.raperesponse.com or call our 24/7 crisis line at (770) 503-7273.
Programs Director, Rape Response, Gainesville