MOBILE, Ala. – When one reads about sexual assault and begins looking at the sobering statistics, it can be overwhelming.
Those stats are terrifying before even considering that sexual assault is generally underreported. There is a good chance someone hearing the message on sexual assault is a victim and by hearing or reading those stats, they could be overwhelmed with painful thoughts and emotions.
That’s why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Atlantic Division approached their Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month program differently.
Four women from various backgrounds and occupations each shared their personal stories of sexual assault, but each of them shared one very important common trait. They are ALL survivors.
“One day I realized that sharing my story could offer hope to individuals suffering in silence,” said Chante Dent one of the guest speakers. “The desire to validate and empower all affected by sexual assault was strong enough to outweigh any discomfort in sharing my story. By sharing my story, I want others to know that help is available, and they can experience healing.”
The testimonies shared by the women provide a stark reality that sexual assault really does exist, because here you can see the victims of it staring you in the face and sharing their stories of personal trauma.
But it also provides hope and perspective for victims of sexual assault. And provides a means of preventing it from happening again, at least at the awareness and education level.
One message rang out loud and clear, we ALL play a part in preventing sexual assault.
“Individuals must understand consent and the damage that follows when consent is not honored,” Dent said. “Also, bystander intervention is vital. If you see something or hear something, say something.”
April Jackson-Hunter, who was one of the guest speakers and a best-selling author, said she does what she does with one goal in mind…making people aware of what is happening and preventing it from happening again
“Educate, empower and rebuild,” Jackson-Hunter said. “First, the importance of educating in schools. Teaching teens about sexual assault and domestic violence, educating them on how to handle rejection, and heartbreak. As well as teach them the importance of disclosing and the importance of a proper healing journey. We all know, hurt people hurt people. It’s time to be proactive instead of reactive.”
One impactful story was shared via video by 1st Lieutenant Lily McDonough, Aide de Camp to the SAD Commander Brigadier Gen. Daniel Hibner.
McDonough was sexually assaulted while she was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and she spoke of dealing with the assault, the aftermath, the trial of her attacker and adjusting to life in the Army following her ordeal.
“I believed after the trial in 2017, I could move on with my life and begin to heal,” McDonough said. “I was far from wrong and came to realize that the pain I felt and trials I had faced would follow for a lifetime. I knew I had to be a voice for the voiceless and by sharing my story I hope to change a broken system and culture.”
It was also reinforced that sexual assault plays no favorites. No matter your age, gender, ethnicity, or financial situation, we can all be victims of sexual assault.
“Regardless of a person’s age or their gender, the impact of sexual violence goes beyond physical injuries that may be present,” said Narissia Skinner, the Executive Assistant to the Division Commander and Victim Advocate with the South Atlantic Division. “The trauma of being sexually assaulted can linger and can cause stress. I would advise victims to seek counseling and to try the SAFE helpline as a resource.”
Quaydaisha Kinslow, one of the guest speakers, wants all of us to be vigilant when it comes to sexual assault so we can help prevent it.
“The one thing I want people to take away from my story is to look for signs,” Kinslow said. “I want people to have an understanding and to be patient. Now how well you know someone, does that mean they can’t do the unthinkable? Believe the victim.”
Skinner said she was glad the event was a success, and she hopes the testimonials of those who spoke remain with those who were present moving forward.
“My hope is that this event will continue to heighten awareness, and promote prevention and education, and offer support,” Skinner said. “This event did not disappoint. The event enlightened and enriched all of us.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month reach out to these people if you have been sexually assaulted. National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE, the DoD Safe Helpline: 1-877-995-5247 and the USACE helpline at 1-800-281-6224.