10,000 Steps Toward Healing
HAVEN of the Columbia Gorge invites community members to join the fifth annual “10,000 Steps Toward Healing” walk at noon on Wednesday, April 25.
People are gathering in front of the old Griffith Motors building on East Third Street in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“Abusers come in all shapes and sizes,” said Tara Koch, executive director of HAVEN (Help Against
Violent Encounters). She said the walk through downtown streets, which stops in front of the offices at agency partners, is intended to “Mobilize Our Voices, Our Power.”
People who participate are showing support for victims of all genders and ethnicities.
The National Sexual Violence Research Center estimates that 67.5 percent of rapes go unreported, mostly because the victim knows his or her attacker.
Koch said April is the national month to focus on sexual violence and its long-lasting effects on victims.
Women are predominately targeted, about one in five have experienced completed or attempted rape in their lives, and one in three are victimized by an intimate partner.
Among college women, nine out of 10 victims knew the person who sexually assaulted them. Fewer than 5 percent of completed or attempted rapes against college women were reported to law enforcement.
One in two women have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime.
Fifty to 95 percent of woman develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) after being raped.
There are much lower figures for men, with one in 67 experiencing rape or attempted rape. Eighteen percent of men reported experiencing verbal street harassment.
One in five men have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime.
One in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 16. And only 26.2 percent of men who experienced childhood abuse disclosed at the time of the incident.
Jenna Cohan, sexual assault advocate for HAVEN, said transgender people are also often victims of sexual violence.
For more information about the walk call Cohan at 541-296-1662 or email jenna@haventhedal... .
The difficult thing about stats to show the number of people who have survived sexual violence is that most incidents go unreported, say advocates from HAVEN of the Columbia Gorge.
About 70 percent of their clients have disclosed sexual assault, said Tara Koch, executive director of HAVEN (Help Against Violent Encounters Now). She said that number would be much higher if everyone felt free to report abuse.
“Anyone can be a victim and yet the most vulnerable — people with disabilities, non-English speaking, youth and the elderly — have a higher risk,” said Koch.
Sexual violence isn’t about someone acting out their desires, said Jenna Cohan, the bilingual sexual assault advocate for HAVEN, which is headquartered in The Dalles.
She said the motivation for rape and sexual assault comes from the perpetrator being able to exercise power and control over another human being. Eighty to 90 percent of victims are women.
“Most abusers are known to the victim and not someone in a dark alley, or who offers candy from a van. They are a friend or family member, coach, teacher or pastor – someone in the same circles as the victim,” said Cohan.
She said perpetrators understand the consequences of their actions but are confident that they have chosen a victim who does not know the system and/or will not have the confidence to seek help.
“Most offenders are never caught or reported on,” she said.
It is not uncommon for the victim to blame herself for the assault and ask, “Did I do something wrong here?”
In addition, other people may blame the victim, especially if the disclosure about abuse takes place years later.
Cohan said it can take decades for the victim to fully process what happened, especially if the sexual assault was coerced or manipulated and not forced through an act of violence.
If the victim found the sexual act pleasurable, even if she or he did not consent to it, there can be a feeling of shame that makes her reluctant to disclose.
“If fear is in the room, sex is not consensual,” said Cohan.
“Victims can be abused and still be in a relationship with someone they care about,” said Koch.
Sometimes the perpetrator seeks to impregnate the woman to keep her tethered to him by a child, another form of control.
Cohan said young victims are often confused about boundaries and discovery of themselves as a sexual being. That sets them up for predators.
“They are learning from movies, online or from friends and that can make them vulnerable,” said Koch. For 37 years, HAVEN has been helping survivors who are referred by partner agencies, such as One Community Health, Mid-Columbia Medical Center, and the Department of Human Services, or find their way to the organization out of a desperate need to heal and build a new life.
What survivors find when they come through the doors of HAVEN is a warm welcome, a strong support network and access to the resources they need to process the harm done to them and move forward, said Koch.
Advocates are standing by to help them find housing, transportation and meet other basic needs. There are also classes to teach coping skills, resiliency and proactive ways to deal with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Sometimes the survivor has no idea what a healthy relationship looks like, or what they have a right to expect from a partner. She learns that she should expect to be treated with respect and dignity.
“We help them cultivate coping skills,” said Cohan.
Sometimes survivors are unable to participate in society the way they did before abuse destroyed their trust and they understood their vulnerability, she said.
In a small town, victims can be forced to interact in some capacity with an abuser they never reported or, if they did disclose, people who blame them, which creates plenty of uncomfortable scenarios that can trigger PTSD, said Cohan.
Sometimes, when the woman has disclosed an assault, the perpetrator undermines her credibility, especially if she had past problems with addiction or another disorder.
Bottom line, say HAVEN advocates, is that and victims need to be supported whenever they disclose, even if it is 20, 30 or 40 years after the crime occurred.