Teens find inspiration through assault survivors

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Every 98 seconds, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Every eight minutes, that person assaulted is a child.

Those chilling numbers come from The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization, and ones that came up last Wednesday as the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center honored survivors of sexual assault.

It was part of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month where more than 50 young people, ranging in age from middle through high school, took part in an afternoon making T-shirts, posters and postcards. All of this work is set to appear at the Pride Beauty Gallery, at the community center.

Nichelle, whose last name — along with others in this story — is being withheld by The Press, painted a T-shirt with the phrase “No means no.” The high school student said a family member was a sexual assault survivor, making that rape-prevention phrase very important to her. An assault can happen to anyone, she said, and people always should be aware of their surroundings. 

Arleen agreed. The community center has allowed the middle-schooler to explore topics like sexual assault and HIV, a topic among its groups serving young women and young men. 

“I like how we communicate about this, because I usually don’t talk about this with my mom,” she said.

Ancel, another middle-schooler, attended a self-defense class, learning how to hit an attacker in the knee, stomach or ribs. He also has a relative who survived sexual assault.

Aditi, who led the self-defense session seminar, says when faced with a threat, “do as much as you need to do to get out of the situation and nothing more.

“If you do more than that, the police could see you as the attacker and not the other way around,” Aditi added. 

Another middle schooler, Dashya, had a message for survivors: “One, never blame yourself. And two, that you are strong enough to make it through.” She also knows someone who is a sexual assault survivor, and made a postcard with the message “Don’t blame the victim.” 

“Even though being kids they might not fully understand, but they know about love,” said Carlina Leon, the community center’s campus sexual assault coordinator. “And, they know that it’s important to show support for somebody else. They know that it’s somebody that needs love, so they are putting this out there.”

Students who participated in the community center event could either take home their artwork at the end of the day, or leave it at the center where it could be displayed for others. 

“`Cause how many nights must I stay up uneasy?” sang Hope, a survivor now in her 40s, in acapella. “How many days will I squander in fear?” 

Her mother’s “yucky” boyfriend raped Hope when she was barely 7 years old, and later found herself in two other relationships where she was sexually assaulted. Hope shared her story of seeking help and building positive relationships in her life. 

“We are celebrating survivors,” Leon said. “We are letting them know that they made the right choice by choosing recovery, and we want to let them know that we are proud of them, that we stand with them.” 

Nearly 63,000 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More than 42 percent of female victims of sexual assaut were first raped before the age of 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control, while nearly 30 percent of survivors were first raped between the ages of 11 and 17.

“It’s true that some people go through trauma and crimes, but it’s also true that people recover,” Leon said. “It’s also true that there’s hope at the end of the tunnel. We want to make sure that people are hearing that message.”

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