Susan McNair broke the silence Thursday night on a dark family secret that reached back three generations.
"I was abused by the age of 9," she said as she spoke to about 250 people at the Second Annual Take Back the Night Rally. "Then I went through it again when my daughter told me my husband was abusing her."
When it happened to a grandchild, she knew it was time to speak about a crime that strikes women and children every minute of every day. About 683,000 women are sexually assaulted each year, an average of 1.3 every minute, said Anne Ealick Henry, director of the Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Center in Augusta. The 305 men, women and children served by her center last year were represented in a long line of t-shirts, some bearing just the phrase "Female, 11."
From artwork to the t-shirts to thousands of paper lanterns lit in a field by the rally, it all served to drive home just how many victims, and survivors, there are, Ms. Henry said.
"Those are not just numbers, those are real people, real women, real men and real children there, there are real lives behind those numbers," Ms. Henry said.
The drawings that lined the rally also speak to the process of healing many of the survivors endure, said Randy Vick, chairman of the masters in art therapy program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
"Many times art therapy is used with young children who may not have the words to describe or discuss what went on with them," Mr. Vick said. Even with adults, the artwork can sometimes allow the patient to bring forth issues and feelings that once set down can then be dealt with, giving the patient a feeling of empowerment or control over those issues, Mr. Vick said.
And a rally of this sort can have benefits not only to those who look around and see that they are not alone in having gone through this, but for the survivors themselves who feel they can take action against it, said psychologist Amy House, who runs the Sexual Trauma Survivors Program at Medical College of Georgia.
"It gives them a chance to feel they're doing something positive and doing something that might prevent this from happening to some other person," Dr. House said. "Often the sense that they're doing something positive can be healing."
It was a rally she heard about in Michigan that inspired Darlene Doerr to help organize the event, and share her own story of abuse with people who knew, and understand, and were ready to help.
"You have taken Take Back the Night into your hearts," she said. "And I thank you with all of mine."