By Allyson Dix
The Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs (KASAP) has announced the release of a statewide documentary called, “Believe Me,” highlighting the healing journey survivors have gone through and offering help and hope to those who need it.
“Believe Me” is set to air on KET on April 25, 26, and 30, which is during Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
KASAP is a coalition of 13 sexual assault programs and crisis centers that serve every county in the Commonwealth. The organization is a unified voice against sexual violence and advocates for sexual violence victims.
The documentary provides powerful stories through personal interviews with 12 sexual assault survivors and licensed professionals across the Commonwealth.
Hope Harbor, Inc. is a part of the KASAP coalition that serves a 10-county region including Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, and Metcalfe Counties.
Hope Harbor’s Executive Director Melissa Whitley discussed her role and the importance of empowering and supporting assault survivors with Jobe Publishing, Inc.
“Hope Harbor’s mission is to empower and support anyone impacted by sexual trauma,” Whitley said, “We are committed to our community to affect social change to eliminate all forms of sexual violence, advocate for the rights of survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and provide specialized treatment interventions.”
Sexual violence impacts so many in our local communities and around the state, and the “Believe Me” documentary will help survivors know they aren’t alone.
Hope Harbor served 533 clients from the Barren River Area Development District from July 2021 – June 2022, an increase of 22% more survivors than the prior year. Around 20% of clients served by Hope Harbor are under the age of 18.
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, over half of women and nearly 1 in 3 men in the United States have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetime.
In Kentucky, more than 39% of women and 18% of men have experienced sexual violence.
According to data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, almost half of those raped in Kentucky had their first victimization at less than 18 years of age and 82% happened before the age of 25.
Whitley graduated from Western Kentucky University with majors in Political Science and Public Relations. Her career in the nonprofit sector began with an organization called Christian Care Communities.
She has served in her current role with Hope Harbor for the last 16 years and as its board representative with KASAP.
All of the staff at Hope Harbor, regardless of position provide direct client services through listening and supporting people on the 24/7 hotline, providing medical advocacy services at emergency departments at area hospitals, legal advocacy services, and face-to-face crisis counseling.
“The most rewarding part of my job is to be able to support someone in their time of crisis, and help them navigate the processes and services to help them move forward,” Whitley shared.
Whitley said the first step is the hardest when faced with sexual violence, which is to ask for help. She encourages that if you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or abuse, there are services like ours to answer questions, validate the feelings you are having, and give you options of how you can receive additional help.
“All of Hope Harbor’s services are confidential and client-centered,” Whitley said, “The advocates will give you options to empower you to make decisions about the services you think best are for you.”
Sexual assault survivors can have lasting impacts and Whitley said it’s important to note not all survivors experience the same effects. In addition, services are accessible whether the sexual trauma occurred yesterday or many years ago.
“There is no right or wrong way to react or feel,” she said, “Some might experience shame, guilt, denial, or minimize an assault or how it has affected them.” Additionally, survivors display heightened safety and trust issues.
Long-term effects can include sleep disturbances, relationship difficulties, disassociation, flashbacks, continued anxiety, and general poor health. “These are common responses to any traumatic experience,” Whitley explained.
The effects of trauma can be difficult to deal with on your own. Whitley encourages survivors to reach out to therapists and advocates at Hope Harbor. They are experienced in helping you find the way to begin a healing journey.
All Hope Harbor services are FREE and CONFIDENTIAL to all individuals impacted by sexual violence regardless of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation, citizenship, immigration status, marital status, familial status, or spoken language.
Whitley shared, “If you have been impacted by sexual violence, we want to help.”
“Believe Me – Help and Hope for Sexual Assault Survivors” will air on the following:
- April 25 at 8 p.m. (KET 3 Kentucky Channel);
- April 26 at 1:30 p.m. (KET 3 Kentucky Channel);
- April 30 at 2 p.m. (KET)
All viewings are listed in central standard time (CST).