LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - New Directions Women's Shelter wants to raise awareness of the problem of sexual assault in our community.
The organization has set up an information booth in Central Mall as part of Sexual Assault Prevention Month. It includes a tree, covered with ribbons, placed there by victims of sexual assault, or friends of victims, to demonstrate how widespread the problem is.
One survivor said she was made to feel as though she was to blame for the rape. She says what made the experience even worse was that those who were blaming her were the ones who were supposed to help her get justice.
"They made me feel like it was my fault. They asked me several questions about if
I was intoxicated, what I was wearing, making me feel like it was the criminal," she said.
She said the man who raped her was not only an acquaintance, he was also in the military.
"People that are higher up are the ones we are supposed to be looking up to. So, when you accuse someone of something like that, it just kind of hurts the background of a police officer or the Army or medical personnel that do some of these things," she said.
New Directions Program Director Kerrie Mathews says victim blaming is the number one reason sexual assault victims don't report their abuse. She says New Direction advocates are working hard to get rid of the negative stigma associated with being sexually assaulted.
"Survivors tell us that there's shame attached to sexual assault. If we can figure out a way to not make them feel ashamed that anything took place to them, because it's not their fault. We need to hold rapist accountable for what they did to someone else," Mathews said.
While this sexual assault survivor says her experience with victim shaming almost drove her to commit suicide, the services she received from New Directions helped turn her life around.
"They offered me a place to stay. They offered food and resources for finding a job if you need one. All the counseling you'd ever need. Everything," she said.
She says she been seeing her counselor for more than a year; a decision she's grateful for.
"They treat you like family and they don't ask what happened. They're not trying to dig into your whole story, or question you. The first thing they do is just believe you," she said.
On April 21, New Directions will dedicate a sexual assault prevention tree at Elmer Thomas Park. Cameron University and Fort Sill will also plant trees that day.
If you've been sexually assaulted and need to talk with a New Directions advocate, without being identified, you can call the hotline at 580-357-2500. The hotline is available 24 hours a day.