by Shyam Allard

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Survivors of rape trauma met for the first time at the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center Oct. 3, and began an eight-week support group for the sexually assaulted.

The program, which was last offered by the center in 2013, will allow women and non-binary identified adults to come together, free of charge, and “explore issues related to healing,” according to an Alachua County Communications media release.

Jessie Lazarchik, program manager at the center, said she thinks bringing together survivors of sexual violence is a significant thing, especially for the group members who might feel more isolated.

“One of the biggest things to overcome in groups is helping create a space where they feel like they can trust each other and trust themselves and trust me,” Lazarchik said. “Without that trust, it’s really hard to share and be really vulnerable.”

Lazarchik also said that the survivors start off as strangers, but by the end, they’ve gotten to know each other and feel comfortable around each other.

“Over time, you see that the group members start to respond to each other, and they start to not even need me there in the room,” Lazarchik said. “They’re talking to each other and connecting.”

Milan Raiford, a University of Florida student double-majoring in psychology and women studies, has been volunteering at the center since January, and thinks that a lot of people have been assaulted, but they never talk about it because they feel like it doesn’t have a big impact.

“I think that each of them feel like they’re alone in this situation and they may not have other people that share the same experiences,” Raiford said. “They’re going to get a sense of community, they’re going to feel supported, especially because there’s a larger group of them.”

Unfortunately, the amount of people who are victims of sexual assault is hard to keep track of, because most statistics are pulled only from reported cases, which means the large percentage of people who don’t report their assault are not represented, according to Lazarchik.

Whether a person has gone to the authorities or not, however, Lazarchik affirms that support groups like this one can play a major role in helping a survivor make progress.

“People do heal and people do return their strength and their power,” Lazarchik said.

Raiford said that she knows it will be difficult, but she hopes that by the end of the eight weeks, the participants will be able to transition from victims to survivors.

“I think that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, because facing your trauma is traumatizing,” Raiford said.

 

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