Sexual assault, sexual violence, rape, and other associated crimes have become a huge problem in certain sections of society, not necessarily because of the amount of acts committed, but because there is a much bigger public conversation than ever before.
Thanks to many advocate organizations, tougher legislation, and the ability for victims and survivors to share stories and bring hope to others, we are able to grasp a much better understanding of the complexities in some of these issues, and the way they need to be dealt with.
A couple of documentaries over the past few years have been instrumental in bringing to light areas where rape and sexual assault continually get covered up. Sexual assault toward women in military in ‘The Invisible War‘ was a shocking reminder that so much goes on behind the scenes that we are not privy to. But because of this documentary, important legislative change came about.
By the same filmmakers came ‘The Hunting Ground‘ which detailed the sad and disturbing epidemic of rape on college campuses around the United States. For those not yet in the know (WATCH THE DOCU ASAP!!), Psychguides.com recently created a study about sexual assault in colleges from 2011 to 2013.
From 2011 to 2013, women reported 3,922 college-related sexual assaults. These occurred on campus, off campus, or in residence halls. When it comes to off-campus assaults, the top five schools made up almost 19 percent of the reports. And 71% of schools reported three or fewer instances of assault. Only 3% of colleges reported 20 or more assaults during this period.
“Statistics show that more than six in 1,000 women will be sexually assaulted during their college years – and a new study estimates that the number could actually be closer to one in five. Alarming statistics – but even these staggering numbers fall short in conveying the emotional and psychological tolls that assaults can take,” said the study.
It has really hit the nail on the head in terms of failing to address the many complex issues involved in sexual assault that go beyond the physical. Which is why those who do speak up and choose to report it are not just helping themselves, but also helping other potential victims know they too have permission to raise their voice.
It is the silence that ultimately gives permission for perpetrators, abusers, enablers and those who benefits from a victim not reporting a sexual crime to continue their actions. One woman hoping to change this cycle is Madeleine Horn, a doctoral student at the The Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA, studying clinical psychology. Madeleine is the founder of Profiles of Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing stories of sexual assault survivors in order to give others out there hope.
“Profiles of Hope aims to combat negative stigmas that our culture associates with sexual assault survivors through photos and personal stores of healing,” says the website.
Madeleine’s mission goes beyond her academic merit. In fact it was her own abuse experience that led her to create POH as well as study more in order to become a more informed advocate.
“Profiles of Hope came about when I Google-image searched the terms, ‘sexual assault’ and ‘rape’. The images were mostly all black and white photos, most of the images were of female persons with sad, depressing expressions on their face and in their body language. Some even had tape over their mouths- extremely victimizing photos. I realized then that these images represent our society’s way of viewing survivors of sexual assault- as ruined, broken, and as victims,” Madeleine explained to us.
“As a survivor myself, this suddenly infuriated me. Although I was raped in my dorm room years ago by a stranger, my life now looks nothing like the images that I found online. Yes, I went through a 5-year healing journey and was diagnosed with PTSD. I suffered from severe depression. I finally got the right kind of therapy- which was specialized PTSD psychotherapy.”
Madeleine is a rape crisis counselor at Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) and is also on the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) speaker’s committee. Although Madeleine is determined to use her voice, there are many victims who do not have that same confidence, which is why an organization like Profiles of Hope is super important to combating the cycle of abuse.
She wants to help other victims become not just survivors, but people who are in charge of defining their own identity, rather than letting a devastating experience dictate who they become.
“Sexual Assault is a violent crime, and has likely touched you or someone you know, and it should never become an identity for the survivor. I set out to find more survivors who were experiencing a new life after sexual assault and had taken steps to heal and recover,” said Madeleine.
“I found 9 women who no longer felt like victims. They had come so far in their healing process that they were able to actually celebrate their life victories and accomplishments after sexual assault. I wanted to recreate the image of what a survivor looks like and who she/he is.”
“Through my healing process, I came to realize that I had done nothing wrong. I blamed and punished myself for someone else’s actions for far too long. But, I learned that it was just one experience of my life; it doesn’t have to be my identity,” said Stephanie, one of the featured women.
“I live with the experience of my sexual assault, but I don’t let it define me. What I do with my experiences is what I choose to define me,” says Monica, another survivor.
It is often said that when we are open with our vulnerabilities, the world becomes a little less of a lonely place. We find people we identify with. Madeleine’s story as well as those featured on the website may just be words to some, but to the right people, they are the difference between simply existing in pain, and living life to its full potential.
Actions can drastically change a person’s life, as can words of healing and nurturing. Profiles of Hope has plans to expand its reach by adding categories to help male survivors and LGBTQ survivors. What a powerful mission to live by!
“Our main goal is to spread the message of hope to other survivors who are struggling with their healing journeys,” said Madeleine.
If you are interested in sharing your story, getting in touch with Madeleine, or learning more about Profiles of Hope, click here for more information. You can also hear more of the powerful stories being shared by watching the video below: