In August 1988, an 11 year old girl named Victoria tied a scarf around her neck and hung herself. Her last words to her younger sister were, “Get help.” It was 3:00 PM. For Victoria, the help did not come in time. The day Victoria died, she was at home, in charge of four younger siblings. All had been abused physically, emotionally, and/or sexually. They lived in a traumatic world we’d like to think is rare, but the numbers show otherwise.
Our mission at ASTOP is to see that help does get there in time for the hundreds of others, young and old, living in the shadow of sexual violence and having more stress than a person can handle.
Victoria’s death shocked the community to its core. Research was done and a needs assessment completed. A glaring fact rose to the surface. Because of a backlog of clientele, people who were sexually assaulted would not be able to receive counseling for 6-8 weeks. Susan Griffiths, Professional Counselor and one of the founding mothers of ASTOP said, “If we see victims right away, we can validate their feelings and the horror they have experienced, alleviate their fears, and take away some of the self-blame.” She added, “The shame these people live with destroys a part of their self.”
One in four females and one in six males are sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday. The average age for a boy is 4 and 12-17 for a girl. Children disclose sexual abuse on the average of seven times before someone hears them, and like Victoria, 93% of the time, the child knows the offender.
In 1992, a crisis intervention center was established with treatment, outreach and prevention as its cornerstones of services. This included: hiring Professional Counselors who specialize in trauma and are able to see clients within the next working day; having 24-hour crisis response either through the phone, emergency department or police station; and teaching prevention education using the empowerment program of Protective Behaviors.
ASTOP’s history unfolded step by step as compassionate people opened their hearts to the trauma they could not close their eyes to. They heard the silent screams of victims of sexual violence who had nowhere to turn for help. The community rose to the challenge and chose to provide cost-free services. They had a vision and ASTOP became the reality. In 2013, 411 prevention presentations were given to over 11,000 individuals. Of that number, 539 participants disclosed sexual violence. Of these disclosures, 117 were from children and teens, pre-K thru freshman. That is 117 children and young adults who had never told someone about their sexual abuse.
In 2013, Susan, a middle school student approached the Prevention Educator and asked if she remembered her? Susan had disclosed sexual abuse the previous year and had been in imminent danger of going home to her perpetrator. She finally realized that, “It was never too late to tell someone”.
Susan went home and told her Mom that her Father had been sexually abusing her, her entire life. Mom immediately packed everything and moved them into a shelter. Susan said it was one of the scariest things they had ever done, but her life was finally her own. For the first time, she wasn’t afraid anymore. Now her mother is stable as a single parent and her father was charged and sent to prison. Susan also accessed ASTOP counseling, and was excited to share that her 13th birthday was approaching because it meant she could finally join the ASTOP Teen Group. The last thing Susan said before walking back to class was, “Thank you for saving my life. You have no idea the difference it has made…”