There was a variety of activities going on at the Project Help event Friday evening on the grass at Lowdermilk Park. But for the survivors of abuse present, the most important reason to be there seemed to be just the chance to talk. One after another, women took the microphone and shared details of what had happened to them, and how they were coping with it.
For many, the common thread in how to cope was Project Hope. The group is Collier County’s crisis center, offering survivor-focused intervention services for victims of crime, and survivors of abuse.
Some spoke hesitantly at first, talking of things generally left unsaid, but then warmed, feeling the relief of sharing their stories with a group of people who could understand their pain and would not judge or denigrate them for something that had happened to them, something out of their control.
“I was kidnapped from my hotel room and assaulted,” said a woman who gave her name as Jill S. “I witnessed two murders, and at the end of it all, he said ‘jump or die’ out of a moving car. Then, he got out of prison and came after me. I used to never be able to say the word ‘therapist’ because it spells ‘the rapist.’”
“I can’t tell you my name — there’s a court thing happening,” said one woman.
Another woman told of feeling trapped in an abusive relationship.
“My name is Cruz. I’ve been the victim of domestic violence and several other things,” she said. “I spent 10 years with someone, because I felt that I had no choice.”
“I was involved in a rape situation — someone I worked for,” said one speaker. “I didn’t even tell anyone.”
One theme the Project Help volunteers and staff brought up, along with the survivors, was the importance of speaking out.
“A lot of people don’t talk, and they should,” said Cruz. “But coming and talking today wasn’t easy.”
Sometimes, the talk died away, and the group sat in silence, listening to the birdcalls and the waves lapping against the beach.
The words of the abuse survivors were amplified by the T-shirts, painted with messages, hanging on a line behind the group of almost four dozen sitting by the gazebo at the south end of the park. They bore legends including “Sexual Abuse – Silence is Not Golden,” “No More Shame” and “Stand Up,” with a diagonal line through the word “fear.”
The T-shirts have been created by survivors and caregivers as part of the healing process. Survivor Jeanne Emeric worked on one, along with counselor Hannah Waterman, at a table covered with bright colored paints and markers. She has benefitted greatly from Project Help, said Emeric.
“They have a lot of different ways for people to heal. The fact it’s near my house, and it’s free, made me feel I had no choice — it’s like a gift. Talking to someone who’s trained to understand means you don’t burden your family and friends,” she added.
Interspersed with the survivors’ testimony, counselors read poems, by survivors, and two by Maya Angelou, including “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” They talked about how, although hidden, abuse is shockingly widespread, with more than 17 percent of American women subject to an attempted or completed rape.
Those who have endured these assaults are three times more likely to suffer depression, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide, said Eileen Wesley of Project Help.
A number of additional organizations were on hand to show their support. The Shelter for Abused Women and Children, Project Unbreakable, True Fashionistas Designer Resale, Monarch Therapy, and Beauty from Ashes, combating child sex trafficking, all had tables and discussed their services.
As the sun set, and the sky grew darker, participants lit candles, cupping their hands around the flames to keep them alive, and holding their lights out to others who needed to have a candle rekindled. By sharing, and shining light on what has been a dark, ignored topic, Project Help works to help those who have suffered abuse.
To support Project Help, call (239) 649-1404 or go to www.projecthelpnaples.org.