Reclaiming our Power: Survivor Champions & Stories of Resilience

This #SexualAssaultAwarenessMonth (SAAM) we are honoring survivors and each of their unique journeys to survivor justice. We know that no one’s experience, feelings, or advocacy is the same; every survivor has a right to react, grieve, and heal in the way that serves them best. 

We reached out to survivors and discussed what survivor justice looks like to them. How did their story change their community? What have they learned from their advocacy work in the survivor justice space? Most importantly: what hope do they have for the future of the survivor justice movement?

Without powerful survivors and advocates like the ones highlighted below—and so, so many others—the movement would be nowhere near what it is today. They are the reason why we fight every day for survivors, during and beyond #SexualAssaultAwarenessMonth.

DarbiAnne Goodwin

Survivor and Student Rights Advocate
“Survivor Justice to me means allowing survivors to have the space to feel heard and supported by their communities and creating a society that believes survivors’ stories and empathizes with them.
I learned the hard truth about being a survivor. While being a survivor and an advocate is empowering and strengthening, there are some days where it feels like neither of those things. Some days it is just trying to make it through the day without remembering what happened to you. But knowing that I am speaking up for myself and others and trying to create a future that allows survivors to feel supported, valued, and believed…there is no better way to refocus yourself.”

Lucy C. Del Gaudio

US Army Veteran, Advocate, Senior Program Manager – Minority Veterans of America
The accountability of a missing weapon is taken more seriously than the voice of someone reporting sexual harassment/assault in the military.  It is not right and it is not just.  We have to continue to give each survivor a voice until change is made.”

Ahava Shardé Divine

CEO, City Girl Ambition, Member of the NJ Coalition for Survivor Justice, New Jersey Advocate
“Sometimes we shrink ourselves to become invisible. When survivors of sexual abuse first tell me their stories, often their eyes are downcast and their shoulders are slumped. But over time, as they start to believe in themselves, they lift their heads, they straighten their backs, and their eyes are wide open. Survivors are resilient and powerful.” 

Stephanie Gattas

US Navy Veteran, Founder/CEO The Pink Berets
If we change the paradigm when it comes to sexual assault in the military, we change the narrative.  If we want to see justice prevail, create an independent review process that is completely comprised of military women….then stand back because you will witness the power of their impact.

Kylee Lee

“I landed my dream job, but I was sexually harassed constantly by my two supervisors—and then I was assaulted. For years, I kept it a secret. The #MeToo movement helped me find my voice—and I reported my abuse to HR. Then, I was fired. The company offered me a large severance if I signed a non-disclosure agreement. I said No! because telling my story—and helping other survivors realize they are not alone—is more valuable to me than money.”
Read more about Kylee’s story here

Stephanie Merlo

Richmond Chapter Leader of Minority Veterans of America, Executive Chair of Virginia Pride
“For me, survivor justice is a healing process.I was depressed, I was mean, I was distant, and had a quick fuse. Once I started to see others who had similar experiences and understand that my trauma is related to everything I list above, I began to seek help. I started a journey of healing and wanted to show others that they are not alone because that is what I felt. I felt alone for so long.
Of course it didn’t stop there. Being a victim of military sexual trauma, the death of Vanessa Guillen sparked another fire under me. I met with a core group of women who shared similar experiences and we went to work. Until we see some structured change and culture change, this won’t stop.
I was a victim in so many different ways. Being brown, being a woman, being a lesbian. I check every diversity mark. I wasn’t afforded the same opportunities as some, I had to work really hard to be where I am, mentally and physically. I still have trouble walking by streets, or even across an ally because of the fear of being hurt, or someone shouting sexual taunts. That isn’t ok. And it definitely isn’t ok that I had to endure that as an active-duty soldier in the Army.”

Alexia Norton Jones

Silence Breaker, Award-Winning Writer, Rare Disease Survivor, and Advocate.
Is it fair that we have to demand justice or spend energy convincing others that one of the worst events in our lives is real? No – I grew up knowing that equality is a constant struggle. So I will shout as long as necessary, until the day that Black women are respected, protected, and heard—and those who would deny us our truths are drowned out by the strength of our voices.”
What is one word that describes yourself or your community?
“I would say what describes me is fierce resilience. Not only am I a survivor of more than one sexual assault, I live with one of the very rarest diseases in the world, Primary Periodic Paralysis, and a very rare wasting disease. If not for my inner resolve I would’ve given up long ago.”

Lesley Lazaro

President, Jóvenes Con Voces (Youth With Voices) 
Survivor justice to me, would mean that a survivor would get the opportunity to live freely, without having to constantly fight. Fight with themselves and their thoughts or with the justice system. I realized that there are many more survivors than we think. I then realized that it is harder for people to admit it to themselves that they even are a survivor, let alone to others. After a while it was easier for me to get comfortable with the idea of survivorship, so why can’t others. Although I am young, I wanted to help others reach self love, self worth, self empowerment and much more, so not only did I start a nonprofit organization that helps our local POC community in many aspects, but we also really wanted to focus on young women empowerment so we started “Girl Talks” a safe and fun space for all females.
One hope that i have for the future of the survivor justice movement is that it will grow and make change. That we can look back and smile as to what was started and how much change was made with consistency and determination. I hope that we inspire others and they inspire more. I hope that we lend a helping hand and a healing heart. I hope that this movement never gives up and that we give it our all. I hope that every young girl can look up to others. I hope that this movement reaches its goals and accomplishes much more.