An emotional and eye-opening display that featured about 1,000 shoes worn, decorated and submitted by sexual assault survivors of all ages from across the state of Florida – with accompanying stories – decorated the Capitol rotunda to commemorate National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The display, hosted by Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV) asks others to “Walk in My Shoes” – the shoes of someone who has been impacted by sexual violence.
“Our smallest shoe was submitted by the mother of an infant, and the largest shoe was sent in by a 50 year old man. We’ve got shoes and stories from young children, grandparents, and people from all walks of life in between,” says Senator Lauren Book (D – Plantation), one of the supporters of the display. “We’ve even got shoes submitted by family members of survivors who ended their lives due to drugs, eating disorders or suicide, unable to overcome the trauma of their assault. It doesn’t have to be that way. With education and awareness, we can prevent 95 percent of sexual abuse – and with guidance and support, we can help survivors heal.”
Someone becomes a victim of sexual assault every 98 seconds in the United States. Last year, more than 10,000 victims reported sexual assault to service providers in Florida, with most choosing not to report their abuse to law enforcement. Experts say this is due to shame, guilt, embarrassment, and the fact that 90 percent of victims know their assailant.
“I was inspired by the sexual assault program in my district in Broward County, the Nancy J. Cotterman Center, which is an amazing and essential resource for our community,” says Representative Kristin Jacobs (D – Coconut Creek), an involved supporter. “I wanted to open people’s eyes to the fact that sexual violence happens much more frequently than any of us care to recognize – and that it happens to men, women and children in all kinds of communities, regardless of race, religion or socioeconomic status. We need to educate, and to help shatter the stigma surrounding sexual assault so that victims can be connected with services and help become thriving survivors.”
Fifteen child victims, who now consider themselves to be survivors and advocates for change, were also in attendance to ‘unveil’ the display in the Capitol rotunda and speak with legislators, as will members from the organization Bikers Against Child Abuse Florida (BACA) – who rode to the Capitol from across Florida to attend.
“It’s OK to tell…and it’s OK to heal,” says a young survivor named Cayla. “The healing starts when you tell someone, and they believe you. Kids shouldn’t be embarrassed or afraid – it is not their fault.”
Seventy-five percent of child sexual abuse victims do not speak up for at least a year; 45 percent keep it a secret for five years, and many never disclose.
“When I was a little girl, we only got one gift for Christmas – a new pair of shoes,” one story, attached to a small shoe reads. “Our new shoes were used only for church, and our old shoes became our everyday shoes. Church was a big part of our lives; it was a big part of our entire community. It still is…If you or your family had a problem, you went to your pastor for help. So, when my older brother died in WWII, I went to our pastor to help me answer all of the questions that kept running through my nine-year-old head. A part of me died with my brother; my entire childhood died that day with my pastor.”
If left unresolved, survivors of sexual abuse face lifelong consequences, including mental health issues, substance abuse, PTSD, lost wages and more. It has been estimated that rape costs victims an average of $122,000.
“It’s important for everyone to be aware that services are available,” says Jennifer Dritt, Executive Director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence. “If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted or abused, help is available today, whether the violation happened yesterday or forty years ago. Florida’s certified sexual assault programs offer trauma-informed counseling, therapy, advocacy, and crisis-intervention services for anyone recently assaulted, or suffering silently from the effects of child sexual abuse. Pick up the phone. Call your local program. Services are available, right now, for you or your loved ones.”
Advocates say that 95 percent of this abuse is preventable through education and awareness.