The topic of sexual assault is not usually easy to broach. What do you say to a survivor? How do you reach out? How do you explain your experience despite a fear of being ignored or even blamed? One important thing to know is that sexual assault is a crime that affects people of “all sexes, all races, all ages, and all socioeconomic levels. Rape does not discriminate,” said Sarah Bumgarner marketing manager for the nonprofit Lifelines Counseling Services, a local rape crisis center.
“One in six women and one in 33 men are raped. To break the silence, we need to talk about how this trauma has impacted our lives.”
Throughout April, advocates from the rape crisis center, along with other survivors and supporters, will be hosting a number of events designed to spread awareness and destigmatize the topic.
“Each event will be about showing survivors and the community, ‘we believe you, we are here for you, we can work to end this problem in our community,’” Bumgarner said. “Our hope is to educate those who do not even realize this is a problem and that it happens in our community — so here’s how you can help. But also to let those who are survivors know ‘we are here to support you in your healing journey and now is a good time to take the first step toward healing.’”
The events this month range from workshops to official meetings. April 2 brought a “Take Back the Night” walk to Langan Park. Participants included survivors, activists and allies who displayed signs stating “You are not alone,” “Use your heart to change the world” and “Listen, believe, support.” They held a candlelight vigil and walked in solidarity to show support.
April 4 was the Alabama Legislative Day in Montgomery where local representatives from rape crisis centers across the state joined with the Alabama Coalition Against Rape to speak with legislators concerning needs and laws.
The second week of April is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week; don’t miss the booth and art display at ArtWalk at the Alabama Contemporary Art Museum on April 12.
Finally, experience a night of spoken word poetry at the closing event titled “Break the Silence” at The Listening Room of Mobile, April 30 at 6 p.m.
Whether you’re pulling from your own personal experiences or you know someone who has been affected, sexual assault is pervasive and we can all do our part to help survivors as they continue with their lives. The simple act of understanding and acknowledging the impact this act can have on a person, and even a community as a whole, creates a better environment and a safer space for all.
One of the biggest issues when it comes to people talking about the trauma they endured is perception. “When we as a community start believing survivors, when we start holding each other accountable for how we talk or joke about these topics, and when we as a community start saying, ‘this is not OK, enough is enough,’ we can start the process of ending this problem,” Bumgarner said. “Men and women do not ask to be raped by the way they act, dress or behave. Let’s end victim blaming.”
There are various ways you can assist our local rape crisis center with its mission. From donations to volunteering opportunities, you can help them create a healthier and safer environment to support the survivors of sexual assault. The team at Life Counseling Services strives to do everything they can for a survivor who contacts them, and they aid in so many different ways.
“A victim advocate’s job is to work with victims and help them return to a pre-crisis state. Our job is to be there with them at the hospital during the forensic evidence collection exam; after the exam, we have a clothing bank where clothes, shoes, undergarments and hygiene kits are provided. We go to court with the victim and support them through the judicial process,” Bumgarner said.
“Advocates also assist with connecting to additional services — trauma counseling, coordination with law enforcement, medical services, housing and more. We assist in providing crisis counseling and helping the victim on the journey to heal. We got into this work to give a voice to those who often feel as if they have no voice.”
The Lifeline rape crisis center has been serving the Mobile, Washington and Clarke county communities more than 40 years through hospital accompaniment, counseling, education and court advocacy. If you need someone to talk to or would like to be involved by volunteering, advocating or supporting, give them a call at 251-473-7273 or visit lifelinemobile.org.
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