The Victim Survivor Advisory Council (VSAC) is an all-volunteer group made up of people who identify themselves as a victim or survivor of sexual abuse or as the parent or partner of a victim or survivor of sexual abuse. We have existed since 1995, and everyone is able to contribute to the committee in their own way. Though we are not a support group, we are considered to be agents of change.
VSAC was created in order to provide an ongoing dialogue between victims and survivors and The Alliance on a multitude of topics. VSAC members work to end sexual violence by reviewing literature produced by The Alliance to make sure it is victim/survivor sensitive, giving feedback to The Alliance about its proposed plans for services, reviewing public service announcements for television, giving television and newspaper interviews, speaking to community groups including schools and prisons, testifying at public hearings at the legislature, and writing letters to the editor for newspapers and magazines.
“My experience on VSAC started on my thirty-fifth birthday. That day, I found out that I missed the deadline for a civil suit against my perpetrator by a matter of hours, literally. I was blind with rage. I called a dear friend of mine to tell her what had happened. She told me I might try calling Gail Burns-Smith, as she was putting together a committee of survivors who were looking for a positive outlet for their feelings. I made the call and talked to Gail, and my life changed for the better there and then. I have found a channel for my energy.”
“Working together with the people on VSAC has been a powerful, inspiring experience. I am proud to be with these courageous people. Where others try to shut me up, here, my opinion is respected and valued. We support each other in our individual projects as well as working as a collective. Like sticks in a bundle, we are stronger together, confronting sexual abuse, doing the right thing, making a positive difference.”
“When my daughter was sexually assaulted in 1994, we both began going to a women’s center for help. I went for two reasons: first, to find out how I could help my daughter, and secondly, her assault had brought forth long-buried anxiety about my own sexual assault that I had kept hidden for seven years. I became so enraged at what had happened to myself and my daughter that I could not find a constructive vent. In January of 1995, my counselor suggested that I volunteer for a new committee being formed. This committee was called the Victim’s Advisory Committee (VAC) at first. It was designed to assist The Alliance in helping victims. Its members were all victims. At last, there was a way to use my anger as a fuel for change, and here I am ten years later, no longer a victim but a survivor who has made a small difference.”
Sexual Assault In Their Own Words
When asked, “What is sexual assault, in your own words?” members of VSAC described it as:
Sexual assault is wrong, unacceptable, violent, ugly, humiliating, painful, sickening, unforgivable, threatening, disgusting, costly, a reality, a crime that hurts the soul, a lifelong assault on the mind and body, worse than a nightmare, deeper than physical scars. Sexual assault is more common than you think, happening to someone you know, leaving millions silently screaming, stealing our childhood, touching every aspect of our lives, committed by “regular” people, perpetuated by silence, perpetuated by the media, costs more than money.
Sexual assault is not about sex, not the victim’s fault, not something that only happens to women, not for your entertainment, not easily forgotten, and not something to joke about. Sexual assault is something you can change, something you can take a stand against, something you can prevent, something you can help end.
Once you have been sexually assaulted you may never look at life the same way, have relationships the same way, or trust people the same way. You may never feel safe again, feel completely clean, feel comfortable walking into a doctor’s office or hospital again, or feel confident walking alone. You may never believe your children are safe, believe that your body is yours, or believe that you can say no.
You may never be the same person that you were before the assault, but you are not alone. We believe you. We support you. We are here for you.
Legacy of Survival
To let victims know they are not alone, a group of survivors put together a letter of support, help, and guidance on how to take your next steps. The Alliance and VSAC want survivors to know that together, we can make a difference.
Break the silence. Talk about it. Forget stereotypes. Understand affirmative consent. Believe that it happens. Educate your children. Listen to the experiences of survivors. Donate money to Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Promote the hotlines. Volunteer at your local sexual assault crisis program. Speak up when someone jokes about rape. Share your story with a friend, advocate, or family member. Confront sexism wherever you see it. Listen to your children. Recognize sexual abuse and violence as crimes. Support a victim’s journey to becoming a survivor. Report suspected sexual abuse. Read about it in the news. Educate your friends, family, partners, and community. Ask your church to write a policy prohibiting sexual abuse. Help your school board provide education programs to teachers and students. Believe you can help. Know that one person can make a difference.
Realize that perpetrators can be nice people, the people you least expect, on your high school football team, a member of your local clergy, on your school board, or someone you trust.
Don’t turn your back on survivors and blame victims. Don’t get desensitized to gratuitous violence on television. Don’t pretend sexual violence doesn’t happen. Don’t minimize the trauma people experience because of sexual violence. Don’t reject a victim reaching out to you for help. Don’t call sexual assault consensual. Don’t let fear keep you silent.