April marks Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness month.
Survivors are continuing to share their stories in hopes of helping others, and organizations are working hard to provide the resources needed to support those healing.
“It’s incredibly important for many individuals, because I don’t think many people realize how many people are impacted by sexual assault,” Sophia Fifner said.
As a survivor herself, Fifner is continuing to share her story in hopes of helping others. She became even more inspired to do just that after the Me Too Movement, when she realized she wasn’t alone.
“When I was raped, I put that in a dark, deep space that I hid away," said Fifner. "I didn’t talk about it, I couldn’t communicate what happened to me without tearing up crying and, quite frankly, even after reading statistics like one in five Black women will experience rape in her lifetime, I didn’t think there were lots of people like myself. I thought I was alone,” Fifner said.
Through her vulnerability and honesty, Fifner's main goal is to raise awareness that there are resources and people out there willing to go through the journey with a survivor.
One of those resources available is the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center, founded by Cathy Harper Lee, who is also a sexual assault survivor. Harper Lee spent over three years working to bring her offender to justice. At the time, she felt there wasn’t enough help, which is why she created her organization.
Harper Lee spent years researching and working with legal professionals who guided her, educating her on what steps should be taken.
Over the past 20 years, the organization has offered free legal assistance to protect victims' rights throughout the entire criminal justice process.
“We have victims right attorneys, trauma-informed victims rights advocates, in addition to our primary goal is to provide direct legal representation and our trauma and trained advocates also provide survivors to referrals for counseling services or other services they may need, we provide safety planning,” Harper Lee said.
The organization has a victims' crime tool kit, which prepares and educates victims on what their rights are.
All of that can be found through their website or by calling 614-848-8500.
Another resource available is the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Executive Rosa Beltre says the organization provides many services, including training for advocates, technical assistance for local programs, systems advocacy, public policy work and much more.
It is a statewide coalition that oversees rape crisis centers within Ohio. Even if there isn’t a center close to where a victim lives, the organization will help guide them with next steps and other resources they can go to.
“What the coalition does, we come in whether it’s with our attorneys or with our managers or director of community response, and helping the community respond, that would include law enforcement, nurse, advocates, child advocacy centers, how is the community going to go ahead and support this survivor,” Beltre said.
Some survivors may not be able to share their story just yet. Beltre said organizations want to be there when they do feel ready.
“Not everyone is safe to share their story, on social media or writing a blog or still being able to share it with their family members because sexual violence continues to be a prime of power and control and it continues to be a demeaning process for a survivor,” Beltre said.
More information about the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual violence and services that are provided can be found here.
As for Fifner? She wants survivors to hold onto these important reminders:
“One: Know that you’re not alone; there are many men and women who have experienced the same trauma you have experienced. Two: That it was not your fault, period. It doesn’t matter what the scenario was or why this happened. It was not your fault, and, three, that I believe you, that there are other people in the community that believe you,” Fifner said.