“Worthy” that is the word I try to impart to the women in shelter and in my sexual assault support groups. Many times, after being sexually assaulted, the victim no longer has a sense of worth or value. I am there to remind them of their worth, support them on their journey to healing, and encourage them.

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness month. It is a time set aside to raise awareness of the crime, but also to raise attention to the process of healing and recovery that takes place after the assault. One misconception of sexual assault is that a person should get over it and move on with their life, but that is just not realistic. When the assault or abuse happens, the trauma can stay with the victim for a long time. It can also their sense of trust, make them question their identity, and their place in society. The trauma is even more devastating when it is from a friend or family member. It calls into question everything the victim believed about their world and the people in it.

I lead several sexual assault support groups: two for our shelter residents, one for our outreach clients (those who aren’t in shelter) and the community, and one for inmates in the Rogers County Jail. My main mission isn’t to keep going over the trauma, while that does come up in conversations; but to help victims see their value again. I want them to feel worthy of love and support, and to remember their life has purpose.

Support groups are a great way to help victims recognize they are not alone. They can share with others who have or are experiencing the same feelings as them. Victims often feel very isolated and meeting together with others helps them process what has happened to them. My job can be tough, but it is all worth it when I see someone have an aha moment – when they see their value again and have the courage to take their life back. For loved ones of victims, the most important thing for them is to be believed and supported as they start and continue the healing process. I am here to say there is hope, there is healing, and there is a purpose for one’s life after the assault.

Sylvia Starr is the shelter team leader and sexual assault advocate at Safenet Services, Inc. – a domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking prevention and intervention agency serving Rogers and Mayes Counties.