The Pioneer is taking a week to feature pioneering women in Charlottesville and beyond. Each day for the next week, we will post a story that informs, inspires, and empowers. As part of this weeklong event, The Pioneer is collecting clothing donations for the Sexual Assault Resource Agency – you can find the donation boxes in the lobbies of #9 and #17 Elliewood Avenue.
Dear SARA Staff and Volunteers,
You may not remember my story in particular (after all, you help over a thousand people each year). But I will always remember what you did for me.
On May 30, 2016 at 7:15PM, I was found in a bathroom without any clothes on. My best friend, without hesitation, called 911. I remember laying in the ambulance and asking the EMT’s at my side to just hold my hand as tears streamed down my face. I was so scared and confused.
It felt like hours passed before I was finally admitted into a room in the pediatric wing of the UVA Hospital. I spoke with a doctor who asked me to explain my story. I will never forget the look on her face as I explained how the last thing I could remember was being thrown onto a bed by a man nearly five inches taller than me. At this time, I made the difficult decision to call in a police officer to make a statement.
The next two hours were a blur; laying in a hospital bed while a doctor took photos of my naked and bruised body; crying in a panicked state over not knowing how I received the hand shaped bruise on my left bicep; attempting to give the officer some sort of explanation of my night and how we got to where we are; holding the hands of my friends while wishing I could go back in time to keep any of this from happening.
But, in that blur, one thing remains a consistent and surprisingly positive memory of that entire experience. A woman from SARA was by my side throughout it all.
Something that people rarely consider when they hear about the execution of a “rape kit” is the fact that the victim’s clothes are taken for evidence. The clothes I had on me when I entered the hospital were stripped from my body, shoved in pristine plastic bags and carted away as evidence. I felt nearly inhuman. Already in shock at what happened, the thought that I no longer even had the clothes on my back was indescribable.
Suddenly, a woman entered my room with a large bag. She gave off the aura of love and kindness. Unfortunately, I do not remember her name, but the image of her face will forever be imprinted in my memory. She looked to be in her late 40’s, maybe early 50’s. Her glasses had an oval shape to them and her hair was styled in a bob. She seemed oddly familiar to my own mother. It was reassuring.
This woman was there when I received my examination from the doctor, stroking my hair and giving me the reassurance that things were going to be okay. She was there when I gave my statement to the police officer and sat by my side throughout it all. She was there when my clothes were taken from me.
Just when I thought I would have to leave the hospital in my hospital gown, the SARA volunteer handed me a pile of items: a purple short sleeve t-shirt with a crew neck and little pleats on the front, a pair of gray gym shorts that came down to my knees with a white pull string tie around the waist, a pair of underwear adorned in flowers and a small bow in the front and a small black stuffed dog in its original plastic packaging. She opened the black dog’s packaging for me. I clutched it like it was the only thing I had ever owned.
Some people may read this open letter and accuse me of trying to get attention. Some people may read this open letter and sympathize, for they have been in a similar situation. Some people may read this open letter and be in utter shock over what I, and numerous others they may not even be aware of, have gone through. But, the truth is, I am not writing for any of those people. Although my story is important, and hopefully one that they will remember, I am writing this open letter in the hopes that anyone affiliated with SARA will read it.
Even after my time in the hospital, I still utilized SARA’s services. More than once, I called their 24-hour crisis hotline. Every time, I was able to speak with a woman who was there to just listen. I talked about anything and everything on my mind. I felt heard; one of the most important things for a sexual assault and rape survivor.
The volunteers from SARA and the organization as a whole never receive enough recognition for what they do. They help sexual assault and rape victims feel human and loved at a time when they would normally feel anything but. They provide hope in a time where it feels like there is none.
So, to everyone at SARA, thank you. For everything.
A Thankful Friend
P.S. I have since adopted my own black dog. He is the light of my life and a constant reminder that there will always be hope in times of darkness.
The Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA) has a mission of ending sexual assault and providing educational resources and advocacy to men, women and children. Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, all of SARA’s resources are free to all survivors.
In addition to ER Accompaniment, SARA also provides:
- A 24-hour crisis hotline (434-977-7273).
- Advocacy for emotional and legal support, case management and therapist referrals.
- Support groups.
- Resources for family and friends of a survivor.