Healing: Survivors help Jacksonville launch April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month

·5 min read

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Chief of Investigations T.K. Waters joined city leaders earlier today at the Sexual Assault Awareness Month News Conference hosted by the City of Jacksonville.Please help in spreading the word and help us empower victims so they may come forward and talk to police. If you are not a victim, but know someone who is, please encourage them to report the crime and seek help.

Posted by Jacksonville Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, April 5, 2022

After enduring "years of sexual abuse" from her caretaker despite hospital and medical treatments for a severe illness, Elizabeth Carrol said she decided to finally take action.

Her caretaker had been "very demanding for use of my body," not understanding the severity of her illness or medical needs, she said. So one October morning, she refused his latest demands for sex and "fought back as hard as I could" after being threatened, she said.

Standing with police officers, Jacksonville's mayor and others on Tuesday, Carrol helped launch April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month with her tale of terror. She said she escaped by calling The Women’s Center of Jacksonville's hotline for help and is now a survivor and advocate for others in need.

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"Whoever I spoke to that morning, and I still don't know their name, changed my life," she said. "Within moments, there was an entire team at my door to take care of me, and they were able to provide all of the resources to stand here as a survivor with the same courage I have today."

Announcing the "Healing: Past, Present and Future" theme, center Executive Director Teresa Miles told the City Hall audience that they need to raise awareness about the lasting impacts of sexual violence. They also want people to understand the importance of breaking the cycle of rape, which occurs every 68 seconds in the United States, she said.

“As a society, we must do better. We must believe survivors of sexual assault, stop victim-blaming and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions,” Miles said. "Our goal is to eliminate sexual assault in our community and society overall, and until that happens, the Women's Center and others are working to advance prevention efforts and to support survivors of sexual assault.”

State Attorney Melissa Nelson (center) joins Mayor Lenny Curry (seated right) to officially recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month at City Hall.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson (center) joins Mayor Lenny Curry (seated right) to officially recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month at City Hall.

April has been nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month since 2001, its goal to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities on how to prevent it.

The annual City Hall event sees representatives from local government, State Attorney’s Office, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and service agencies speaking out against sexual violence. One of those was State Attorney Melissa Nelson, who said her office opened more than 200 sexual assault case files last year, knowing those were "just a mere fraction" of the assaults out there.

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She said her prosecutors not only seek to hold those accountable who commit sexual assault but also promote healing for survivors.

"We understand the far-reaching tentacles that this trauma can have. It's not suffered only by the survivor. It impacts everyone around the victim," Nelson said. "... Like a cancer, this trauma can also breed in future generations. That's why restoration and healing are so critical. And it begins with public awareness of the issue and education about generational trauma that in fact stems from sexual assault."

A month of awareness

The Women’s Center is working with several organizations to plan fundraising and educational events throughout the month. Those include:

• 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday: First Wednesday Art Walk will include a table in front of the Main Library on Laura Street displaying a survivor’s artwork along with information about sexual assault and resources for survivors.

• 7 p.m. Monday: HamBINGO at Hamburger Mary’s at 3333 Beach Blvd., a $10 donation per bingo card is requested.

• 7 p.m. April 19: Trivia Night at Hurricane Grill & Wings at 628-6 Atlantic Blvd. in Neptune Beach.

• 2 p.m. April 24: Zumbathon at LifePoint Christian Fellowship, 4298 Livingston Road, $10 tickets, more information at bit.ly/3LDxkIc.

• April 27: Denim Day, an international campaign to help end victim blaming and spread awareness of how to stop sexual assault. The Women's Center asks community members to wear denim that day and post a photo with hashtag #denimday, tagging the center on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. People are also asked to donate to the center at bit.ly/3LJccAx.

• 6 to 7 p.m. and 8 to 9 p.m. April 29: Surviving to Thriving Art Exhibit, Celebrating the Voices of Survivors at Babs'Lab at 603 King St., the center's annual art exhibit celebrating the voices of survivors of sexual assault.

The Women's Center's rape recovery team provides support services, forensic examinations and information to help survivors. The center also has a 24-hour rape crisis hotline at (904) 721-7273. More information can be found on the center's website at thewcj.org.

dscanlan@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4549

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Survivors help Jacksonville launch Sexual Assault Awareness Month