No longer silent: survivors of sexual abuse share their stories

By on September 28, 2014

Pinwheels for Peace kicked off U of L’s Week Without Violence, which hosted events geared toward raising awareness about sexual and domestic violence, encouraging positive actions to end violence. By making the statistics into people, rather than faceless numbers, the hope of this project was to take a step toward raising awareness of sexual violence.

University of Louisville’s PEACC center organized the Week Without Violence.  PEACC, which stands for  Prevention, Education and Advocacy on Campus and in the Community is a division of campus health services.

Amanda Parente, a UofL graduate student and intern at PEACC, knew firsthand about the immediate and prolonged effects of sexual violence.  She was a freshmen in college, and dating her high school sweetheart, when he sexually assaulted her during a visit home in 2008. In the years to come, Parente found many of her friends didn’t believe her, and those that did told her she was just being over dramatic. As a result, over time she became angry, anxious and depressed. But after finding she could use her voice for power and taking back her feelings of helplessness, she was able to plan her Florida college’s “Take Back the Night” program during her senior year, and has been able to talk with her assailant, finally getting closure.

Parente moved past the anger.  She also moved onto graduate school and plans on starting a consent campaign within the next year on U of L’s campus. She since got a tattoo that included the ribbon of sexual assault awareness as a conversation piece and gateway into raising awareness.  Her advice to survivors: “You’re not alone. It’s hard, but not only will you survive, you will thrive.”

Another U of L student, who wished to remain anonymous, first felt the effects of sexual assault from the ages of five to nine, but didn’t truly understand what was happening until years later. In 2010, she was a freshman in college when she lost her virginity, without consent, to her at-the-time boyfriend.  As college went on, she began to develop a reputation. “I was nicknamed ‘mattress’, because it was said that everyone laid on me,” she said. “Fraternities labeled me as ‘the whore that anyone could use.'”

She then became a prostitute because she felt it was all she was worth, and all anybody wanted of her.  She failed out of school, and ultimately ended up in a homeless shelter due to addiction. In 2012, at rock bottom, she was assaulted again — this time violently — by the same family member who sexually abused her as a child.

Since then though, she has been able to sober up, attend self help and support groups, and has transferred to U of L to study business. She has also since devoted much of her time to researching the correlation between sexual violence and drug use. After transferring to U of L, she learned her story was not unique. “Sadly, I have met many other women who have had similar experiences,” she said. “I’ve been there, now I can help others. I wasn’t given this second chance for nothing. I believe I have the opportunity to use it for something good.”

In January, the White House Commission on Women and Girls released up-to-date statistics which stated one in every five college women (from 18-24 years) have been victims of sexual assault while attending college, while one in every 33 men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. What makes this statistic truly staggering though, is that most of these crimes go unreported, so it is impossible to be accurate with the numbers. The number has gone down, as it used to be one in four, but as these women’s stories prove, these crimes have impacted the UofL community despite that decline.

About Tavi Wallace

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