Survivors testify during Sexual Assault Awareness Month

BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) - Studies show one out of six women have been a victim of rape or attempted rape. Even more shocking, 10 percent of children will experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday.

The month of April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month to shed light on this nationwide epidemic.

An awareness event on Friday night, Take Back the Night, was held on Hilton Head Island at the Jarvis Creek Park Pavilion to empower survivors of sexual assault. 1,426 origami birds were strung to represent the number of sexual victims in the United States in 2017.

Several survivors shared their stories. Among those, Joanne Taylor, who is a minister in Beaufort, SC, says it was a long road before she stood behind a pulpit.

"I couldn't understand how a God would allow a seven-year-old child to be raped. I couldn't understand how a God would allow it to be her father who was a perpetrator of that rape," Taylor said.

Several years down the road, minister Taylor was a victim to rape, yet again. She was attacked while leaving a bar.

"I told absolutely no one because I was ashamed. I thought it was my fault because I had been drinking," she said.

Confusion and embarrassment kept her silent.

"I held onto this secret until I was 33-years-old, and I couldn't hold onto it any longer," she said.

Friday, she has a voice and a support system, but secrecy and self-blame is no stranger to law enforcement.

"For every case that is reported, there are four that go unreported," said Beaufort County Sheriff PJ Tanner. "This is a hideous crime. I've been in this business now for a little over 36 years, and it doesn't get any easier."

Neither are the staggering statistics that continue to surge.

"South Carolina's rape rate has increased by 37.6 percent and has exceeded the national average since 1982," said Hilton Head Island Mayor Pro-Tem, Kim Likins.

This crime is also plaguing Chatham County, as rapes reported in 2017 rose 73 percent in 2018, year to date. One solution law enforcement has seen success first-hand with is survivors speaking out and encouraging others to follow.

"It's time to stop playing small and step up to the plate and be that person," another survivor said.

"I learned that I didn't have to take that; that I'm not a doormat. Not to him. Not to anyone," Taylor said. "You are not alone and you never have to be alone again."

"Like the #MeToo movement giving survivors across the country a platform to tell their stories, Take Back the Night is our community's way of giving local survivors a platform for their stories. It takes immense courage to tell your story of abuse, and we need as many people as possible to come affirm that our community believes and supports them," said Hopeful Horizons CEO, Shauw Chin Capps.

For more information on the mission and vision of Hopeful Horizons, click here.

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