One speaker after another delivered the same message as Day One kicked-off Sexual Assault Awareness Month Tuesday, but no one delivered it as effectively as three victims of sexual assault.
“The solution to childhood sexual abuse is to remove the silence,” Pasco Troia told those gathered in the State House rotunda. Troia, who called himself a “proud survivor,” said he had been abused by a Roman Catholic priest. He said it was an experience that changed his life, “destroying any opportunity of having a normal existence.”
Referring to those who have been abused, Troia said while the stories differ, “We are all shockingly similar. Many of us feel responsible. Many of us lug around truckloads of guilt.”
Erin Cheschi, a victim of a brutal gang rape when she was 26, told her story of seven years ago and how if it hadn’t been for one Boston police officer that believed her she might not be here today.
“Many victims are apprehensive about reporting due to not being believed or supported by the legal system,” she said.
She called the sympathy of a first responder vital. She believed she would find closure in the police investigation of her case, but it was not until she let go of the idea of legal justice that the healing started. Cheschi urged those who speak to a victim to let them know that they believe them. And she urged to “help them find the strength and love themselves to put one foot in front of the other.”
Peg Langhammer, executive director of Day One, outlined the statistics. She said that one out of four girls and one out of six boys are victims of sexual violence. She said that one of five women is a victim of rape.
“It’s time to talk about it,” she said emphatically.
Day One provides a host of services to people affected by sexual assault, domestic violence and other violent crimes, including clinical services, advocacy service, the Rhode Island Children’s Advocacy Center and educational and professional training. In the last year, Day One provided services to 10,468 individuals. Of the clients receiving services, 74 percent were female and about 56 percent were children.
Jessica Cincquegrana of South Kingstown told how her first memory of being sexually abused was when she was six years old by three family members.
“I woke up, was sexually abused, went to school, came home and was abused each night.”
The abuse lasted until she was 16 and found the courage to disclose what was happening.
Cincquegrana chose not to talk about how the experience negatively affected her life. Rather, she said, “I want to share a message of hope to those victims who have not yet found their voice. Tell someone. Let us hear your voice. You have more strength and courage within you to survive than you will ever imagine.”
Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed praised the courage of those who speak out and the work of Day One to provide safe places for the victims.
“It’s important that we talk about it,” said Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, “that we don’t hide from this issue and that we hold the offenders accountable.”
Gov. Lincoln Chafee also spoke of the importance of addressing the issue, as did Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. Kilmartin stressed the need to listen to children.
“When they come forward we can’t minimize the trauma,” he said.
Citizens Bank Rhode Island president Ned Handy saluted the victims for their courage in telling their story and congratulated Langhammer and Day One on their work in addressing this issue.
“It happens way too often,” he said. “It’s time to talk about it.”
Citizens Bank is a major sponsor of Day One, which was established in 1973 as the R.I. Rape Crisis Center.