A voice in the darkness: how we can all speak out
One in three women around the world will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
In 2006, $90.5 million was spent on medical treatment and assistance for sexual assault victims. Only $3.3 million of that was supported by state-wide victims services.
Domestic and sexual violence are silent killers in our community and in our state. It is a subject many people refuse to address or acknowledge but far too many experience.
April 8 – 14 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, while Domestic Violence Awareness Month is in October.
Alexa is one of many, many survivors of domestic violence. Her story is her own, but it has similarities to many other survivors’ stories.
I want to thank Alexa for her honesty and her willingness to help others by sharing her own story.
The reason Alexa reached out to me was because she truly feels her story is an opportunity to save another life. She fears her abuser will not stop his ways. She has great concern there are other women’s lives in danger.
She wanted to speak out. She wanted to show she is a survivor. She didn’t always feel this way, but now she is using her story to empower not only herself, but others; for the victims and survivors of domestic violence who cannot speak for themselves.
Alexa had many other support systems in place throughout her cycle of abuse, and those support systems included her friends, her teachers and social workers at her school, her parents, and herself.
These support systems are crucial. As I have learned through my own experience as a domestic violence advocate, and avid supporter of spreading awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault, it is important to know that isolation from other support systems is one of the ways abusers can get the upper hand. And they use this to their advantage, especially in our small, rural communities.
For Alexa, it was her friends at school who noticed the bruises on her arm after her boyfriend physically abused her the first time.
Her friends spoke up and took Alexa to an adult who could help.
“To any bystander in a situation where you may believe abuse is happening, speak up. You have the potential to save someone’s life,” says Alexa. “If you see or hear something, speak out that is where we have the power to end domestic violence. If you are in school and your friend starts acting distant or different because of a boyfriend or a girlfriend, talk to a teacher you trust, a guidance counselor, a school social worker, parents, anybody. We have to end the cycle of abuse together.”
Alexa saw two different parental responses to her situation. She saw her own parents, who supported her in changing schools when she felt unsafe, and did what they could to protect her from her abuser.
She also saw her abuser’s parents, who she felt made excuses for his violent behavior.
There is never, ever an excuse for that kind of manipulative behavior. I am not blaming the parents of Alexa’s abuser. Repeat abusers know how to manipulate anyone to get what they want or what they need.
Alexa has advice to parents who may have a teenager in a violent relationship:
“Listen. If you think something is happening, listen to your child and listen to your intuition. Be there for them, be supportive. They are never at fault when someone does something like that to them,” she shares.
And to the victims of abusive relationships themselves, Alexa also has sound advice:
“That is not love. You are worth so much more than what your partner tells you, what they want you to believe when they hurt you. That is not okay. Be strong you are not that situation. They are not your burden to carry,” says Alexa. “Do not hesitate to call 9-1-1. They are there to help you. Listen to your intuition. Don’t be afraid to cry out for help.”
As a student in college, Alexa has found a circle of peers and professors who have empowered her to be the strong survivor that she is now.
She has devoted her secondary education to a path that will help others like her.
“In order for there to be change, you have to be that change,” she says. “The perspective from a victim or survivor of violence is more important than what you usually read or hear.”
Alexa wants to bring awareness to the violence that is happening in our communities. She feels people need to know what is happening next door, especially in our small towns and communities.
“This happens more and more often than you think, and if it takes me to speak out, good or bad, I’m going to keep talking. The more awareness we can spread, the more people know,” she says.
“Through school and talking to other empowering women, I woke up and realized it was time for me to speak out. I am a lot stronger. I will never let anyone else tell me what my self worth is ever again. Now I know that I’m not what anyone tells me I am anymore. To the survivors out there, you are not alone. People may not be ready to hear your experience, you may not be ready to share it, but know you are not alone.”
One of Faribault County’s strongest resources for victims of domestic violence is the Committee Against Domestic Abuse, Inc. (CADA).
The nonprofit organization covers eight counties in Southern Minnesota and has been serving individuals and families for 38 years. CADA offers advocacy to victims of domestic and sexual violence as well as sex trafficking.
They operate an emergency safety shelter, run three supervised parenting time and exchange centers, and provide 24-hour crisis intervention via their hotline. CADA?also provides support groups, individual therapy, legal advocacy, hotel stays, offender education, emergency medical exams and incident reporting accompaniment, community prevention education, volunteer and internship opportunities, and housing support.
Another great support network for victims of abuse is the Faribault County Victim/Witness Program.
I echo what Alexa and the CADA advocacy group says: we can put an end to this. If you see it, speak up. If you think something is happening, talk to someone. You are not alone.