"And I believed them," said Terri Allen, adding that the "trail of dysfunction" followed her for years until she finally sought counseling.
"I hungered for healing," she said. "Now I'm a survivor. In fact, I'm a warrior."
Allen was one of five sexual assault survivors who shared their stories last week at the Take Back the Night Rally at Augusta State University. Several hundred people attended the 15th annual event, which was a collaborative effort of ASU, Paine College and Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services.
The survivors' stories served to validate informational speeches given by local officials, including counselor Shannon Nix, Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ashley Wright, ASU professor Dr. Allison Foley and Rape Crisis Executive Director Anne Ealick Henry.
Wright admitted that the fight against sexual violence is difficult because there are no typical victims, no typical circumstances, perpetrators, locations or responses.
"There is no obvious scenario to make a basis for prevention, investigation or prosecution," she said. "So we are trying to create awareness ... so that you who are out there can help before it happens."
Survivor Timothy Hessman learned the atypical lesson the hard way. Hessman was assaulted by a roommate in his barracks while serving in the Army, training for Special Forces and waiting deployment to Iraq.
"I knew that women and children were assaulted, but not adult males," he said, "especially one who is in shape and by someone who was supposed to have my back."
When he reported the assault, his peers accused him of being homosexual and instigating the attack and of sending an innocent man to jail. He received death threats and was shot at.
"Unfortunately, we live in a society that supports victim blaming," Nix said. "In my counseling experiences, we spend as much time working to move beyond those beliefs as much as we do overcoming the actual rape."
Another survivor, Gloria, whose last name is being withheld to protect her identity, said that when her boyfriend raped her she blamed herself because she had gone to his house knowing he was there alone. It was four months before she told anyone.
"Rape is something people are not comfortable talking about," Nix said. "But statistics show that it happens frequently, and it's happening to people you love."
Foley said society blames the victims, accusing them of dressing in a way that says they are "asking for it" or being in a place where they should expect rape to happen, such as a party or an empty, dark parking lot.
"This suggests sex offenders are people we don't know, when they are more often persons we find in our own homes and neighborhoods," she said. "Furthermore, they place the burden of responsibility on the shoulders of the victims themselves."
Survivor Amanda Revis knew she was not at fault but still struggled with self-blame, especially when her rapist was acquitted of her rape and two others in Augusta. A few weeks later, he was convicted of rape in North Carolina.
According to reports, each incident was similar in that the rapist lived in the neighborhood and was familiar to the victims, and he knocked on their door and asked to either use the bathroom or telephone, saying his was out of service.
"It took years for me to convince myself I did nothing wrong by answering my door," Revis said, adding that going through the police report and investigation was emotionally draining and humiliating, but worth the trouble. "Justice cannot be served unless the crime is reported."
Nix said survivors cannot get the help they need if they don't speak out. Because she was sexually abused repeatedly for years, survivor La'Chyra Mitchell said she learned to suppress her feelings as a means of survival and became withdrawn. Now she is grateful for an outreach program that helped her regain her life.
"I told myself my mind and my body are not here experiencing this treachery," Mitchell said of her past. "One of the biggest changes in my life is now I have feelings. ... Thank you to communities who support Sexual Assault Awareness Month and support survivors."
Augusta State and Paine have licensed counselors who offer free one-on-one sessions to victims of rape. Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services offers the same service to the community. Victims of sexual assault may call the 24-hour crisis line at (706) 724-5200.