More than a statistic
Shereka Littlejohn Dunston said to the small group, “I’m that one in four.”
As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Dunston talked about her journey, citing that she is part of the statistic that one in four college women has survived rape or attempted rape.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, SAAM was first observed nationally in April 2001. SAAM and its teal ribbon have been designated to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities on how to prevent sexual violence.
This year SAAM’s focus is on healthy sexuality and young people. Last year’s focus was to increase dialogue with young people to help prevent sexual violence.
“I hope to be a face that someone can think of and say, ‘I heard her story. I heard her pain.’ I don’t mind being an example it if helps someone,” she said. The Herald-Sun usually does not name victims of sexual violence, but Dunston agreed to have her name used.
Dunston spoke as part of the Lunch and Learn Series held by the Durham Crisis Response Center as it observes SAAM. It was one in a series of events for the month.
By age 19 Dunston said she had endured two incidents of rape and was a shell of her former self.
Dunston said that she “wanted to be happy again but couldn’t remember what made me happy prior to the rape.”
Aurelia Sands Belle, executive director of the Durham Crisis Response Center, explained that sexual assault is more than just physical and can have far-reaching side effects.
“I just keep thinking about the violation that occurs with sexual violence,” she said. “It’s just the invasion of a person, an invasion that is not only physical but it’s emotional and psychological and trying to recover from that is a challenge.”
Among the challenges is having adequate help available for victims of sexual violence and removing the stigma that prevents many from seeking help.
“The thing is getting people to look at some of the complexities of why victims don’t come forward – fear of not being believed, fear of being blames and not getting the support they need without blame and without judgment,” said Sands-Belle. “The support they need and deserve.”
Dunston said that a flier given to her by the editor of her college newspaper prompted her to seek help following her second encounter with sexual violence. She also said that the murder of her aunt by her boyfriend added urgency to her story.
Shamecca Bryant, executive director of the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, said that sexual violence can be addressed with teenagers, like Dunston after her first rape, by including them in the conversation and not simply talking at them.
“Unfortunately we’re in a society where our youth is inundated with examples of what relationships look like but they aren’t good examples,” Bryant said. “It’s important to know what a person wants and to respect that.”
Youth Against Rape Culture’s Hollaback! Durham & Chapel Hill is empowering teens to take agency over their own bodies, Bryan said, by working to turn the tide on violence against women and sexual violence.
“Our organization is 40 years old,” Bryant said. “Forty years ago men and women were marching because women were being raped and no one believed them. It’s 40 years later and we’re still in a position where people feel shame and guilt for being victims of a crime. That’s ridiculous.”
Now a life and stress management coach, Dunston uses her experiences to help empower others. On the 10th anniversary of her first rape at 16, Dunston completed volunteer training at Durham Crisis Response Center
“You never know what someone is going though,” she said. “This is a community effort. It takes all of us.”