APRIL IS SEXUAL ASSAULT AWARENESS MONTH
One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. One in six boys and one in four girls will experience sexual assault before the age of 18. To end this devastating and silent problem, anti-sexual violence advocates got together for a proclamation signing yesterday at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center to raise awareness of sexual violence in the CNMI.
Despite Gov. Eloy S. Inos not attending, the proclamation that declares April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month was later signed in the Office of the Governor.
A central tenet to this year’s observance is the message that speaking out is necessary to expose the horrors of sexual violence.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people,” said Reina Celis, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
A victim of sexual assault herself, Celis told her story yesterday to give hope and support to other victims and survivors of sexual assault.
“Ten years ago on a day not out of the ordinary, I became a victim of sexual assault. Despite all the misconceptions regarding sexual violence, I was not at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said.
Celis said she did not provoke the act of violence against her, was not attacked by a complete stranger, and she did not ask for it, but throughout her ordeal she felt robbed of her dignity and her self-respect.
“I was helpless and alone and was overcome with anger, fear, and shame and after what seemed like hours of pain I have been asking over and over what I had done to deserve this and basically I had to gather all the strength I had left and fight back,” she said.
“And I knew that if I was going to die I wasn’t going to go down without a fight but thankfully I prevailed and was able to get home to safety and, even though I escaped the assault, I felt robbed of my humanity and my self-worth. I was ashamed and feared of what others would think.”
“I remember the last words from my attacker and the threats not to report it out to anyone and I was afraid of taking action against my attacker, even though I knew what he did was wrong and what he did was a crime.”
“But there was no other way and I knew the right thing to do was to report this. I knew I couldn’t allow him to roam freely and risk him attacking me again or someone else or someone more helpless.”
“And with the support from the family and the strength I needed for the sake of my children, I reported the crime. I hung on until I got my day in court where I took the stand and faced my attacker while reading the entire ordeal in front of everyone. But I took that stand, I fought hard and I got justice and since then I continued picking up the pieces of my life and became a strong person today. I was a victim but now I stand here,” she said.
Being a mother, daughter, sister, friend, and coworker in a “tight-knit community,” Celis believes that courage inspires courage.
If you see an act of domestic or sexual violence, break that practice of minding your own business. The right thing to do is to speak out and be that victim’s voice, she said.
“We should never turn a blind eye toward violence. Speak out and call for help and let them know that domestic or sexual violence is wrong. It is a crime that will not be tolerated in our community. If we don’t do this we give the power of the attacker to destroy lives and create another victim,” she said.
“It’s time to end the silence and reach out to those who have been victimized and tell them that they are not alone, they do not need to live with the shame and guilt, and they need to know they can get their lives back,” she added.
Celis told her story not just to inspire other victims but to also inspire her sons, who would one day know her story and become advocates against sexual and domestic violence.