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Two Victoria women add their voices to the #MeToo movement

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Many people think celebrities are nothing like me and you. But one hashtag, united women all over the world.

Katie Couric, Lady Gaga, Gabrielle Union and Tracey Itz spoke up on social media about their own personal stories of sexual assault prompting thousands of women globally to speak up. 

The #MeToo movement spread across social media in October 2017, encouraging women to speak out against sexual assault and harassment especially in the workplace. The movement turned into a global campaign as more and more male public figures faced sexual abuse allegations. 

Harvey Weinstein, film producer; Kevin Spacey, actor; Matt Lauer, television journalist; Mario Batali, chef/media personality; James Franco, actor; and Larry Nassar, USA gymnastics national team doctor, are just a few of the men facing multiple accusations of sexual assault or harassment. 

Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on several assault charges in Ingham County, Michigan on January 24, 2018. 

Just one day after Nassar's sentencing, an award winning author recounts her horrific experience in an abusive and nearly deadly relationship. 

"I felt really emotional watching that because we don't see restorative justice like that in the criminal justice system. We see people being punished some in ways that aren't just. Sometimes we see people getting away with it like Brock Turner. He was sentenced to three months and didn't even serve it all," Lacy M. Johnson, author of The Other Side: A Memior.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina allowed more than 150 women to describe the sexual abuse from Nassar. Johnson believes it held Nassar accountable to hear the damage he's caused and gave his victims healing. 

"We have a judge who is asking survivors of this person's violence to come and share their statements with them, to tell him their story, to force him to listen, to force him to reckon the effects of his crimes," said Johnson. "I really appreciated how she not only invited survivors to come share their stories but also extended that period so that people who were reluctant to come forward would have a chance to consider how they might feel if they didn't."

Lacy M. Johnson read an excerpt of her memoir the day after Nassar sentencing, in the spring University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series.

-----clip(s) of her reading memoir 

Johnson was kidnapped and held prisoner in a soundproof room in a basement apartment by her ex-boyfriend with the intention of raping and killing her. She escaped, but her abuser was not caught. “The Other Side” is the account of that passionate and then abusive relationship, the events leading to the kidnapping, her escape and her struggle to recover. Johnson used police reports, psychological evaluations and neurobiological investigations in her book to look at troubling and timely questions about gender roles and the epidemic of violence against women.

I'm sure you're wondering what happened to her ex-boyfriend. 

He lives in Venezula, married with children. He's a wanted fugitive by the U.S government and FBI. Johnson said she doesn't think he'll be brought to justice in the United States. 

Justice is different for every survivor. 

"What I want is the sort thing that we saw in the Nassar trial, is a reckoning where he has to admit to me, in public, to my face, what he did to me and to hear the consequences of that in my life. Then after that I don't really care what happens to him. I mean I don't want him to move in next to me, I don't want him to be my neighbor but I don't need to see him punished I don't need to see him suffer," Johnson said. 

There's a stigma placed on survivors of sexual assault that shames the victim and not the abuser. It's the way we are trained as a society to view sexual violence and victims which only protects the abuser. 

"We're taught it's a failure,mark, or blot on your respectability but that lesson teaches us to be silent. That silence does not protect us a women, it protects the men who violate us and those men do not deserve protection," Johnson said. 

THE BREAKING POINT

Johnson hit an all time low in her abusive relationship when her ex-boyfriend punched her causing her to fall on the ground, injuring her head. 

"I think that was the lowest moment of my life. I decided I didn't have any farther to fall. There was nothing left in me that couldn't be broken. Everything had already been ground down until I felt there was nothing left," Johnson said. " I decided I either have to leave or he's going to kill me. I decided to take a change and go." 

Before writing her memoir, Johnson continued to struggle with her past feeling like her suffering annihilated her. 

"It's not just a crime against your body. It's a crime of annihilation and I couldn't find a language to describe that. So the goal of writing the book was to give it a language. That's how I make sense of the world, giving language to something that has none. I've found that very healing."

Another Victoria woman, who's a survivor of domestic violence finds another way to heal. 

Tracey Itz, founder of Domestic Violence Victims and Survivors United, founded this group in 2015 to help her own personal healing process as a survivor of domestic violence. 

Itz tried traditional and faith-based counseling but felt needed to speak with a woman she could relate to. 

"There were all types of abuse in our marriage. There was financial, verbal, physical, sexual and emotional. You name it, it was all there," Itz said. 

THE BREAKING POINT

The threat of Itz's ex-husband turning his rage onto her son was the last straw.

"One evening, when he was physically abusing me and I hollered for my son across the house to call 911. By then my husband had already taken my phone from me. My husband ran from me to my son's room to get the phone I would assume but it scared me so much that he might hurt my child and that was it," Itz said. "That was my breaking point. I had him arrested that night and filed for divorce the next morning."

"THE MARK" AND MISCONCEPTION

The silent mark and misconception of sexual abuse survivors stem from a deeply rooted fear. 

"The main one is 'it must not be that bad or she would leave.' That's not true. Victims usually don't leave for many many reasons. The biggest one being fear," Itz said. 

It's the most dangerous point in a victim's life whenever they leave their abuser because that's when their abuser is their angriest because they no longer have control and they're unpredictable. 

The unpredictability of coming forward about sexual harassment in the workplace and the long-lasting 'mark' that comes with the title of sexual harassment victim leaves women to feel forced into silence. 

"I don't know anything about Hollywood and those ladies. However, I believe ladies in the everyday work environment are scared to come forward. I believe if they're sexually harassed or assaulted in the workplace, if they do come forward they're instantly marked and no one else will want to hire them," Itz said. 

HEALING

There are a variety of resources to help lessen the effects of trauma and help survivors regain a sense of safety. At Mid-Coast Family Services, adults can choose to receive medical attention and/or counseling without involving law enforcement. Sexual trauma can have lasting effects, so counseling is recommended. 

"My support group actually helped the healing process. It's amazing how therapeutic it is to sit with others that are just like you and be able to help each other through this process," Itz said. 

Itz shared her story with the public several years ago at a Crime Victims Week in Victoria. It was the scariest thing she's ever done but also the most empowering. 

"It was very emotional. My entire family was there. I had a whole bunch of friends there and for the first time I told my story. My son actually heard the words come out of my mouth. I got to see from the podium to the audience the look on my parents face when I recreated the events that they knew had occurred. It was very emotional, very traumatic but at the end it was very empowering."

Johnson's book, Itz's recovery group, Nassar sentencing and trial and the #MeToo movement are all forms of healing and empowerment for sexual abuse and harassment survivors.

Resources

Mid-Coast Family Services 

Victoria Police Department 

Victoria County Sheriff's Department 

Sexual assault statistics

  • 1 in 4 women and 1 out of 6 men are sexually abused in their lifetime; (Department of Justice)
  • In 8 out of 10 rape cases, the victim knows the attacker; (Department of Justice)
  • Nearly 6 out of 10 sexual assaults occur in the victim's home or the home of a friend, relative or neighbor; (Department of Justice)
  • 13.3 percent of college women say they have been forced to have sex in a dating situation; (Journal of Interpersonal Violence)
  • Only 28 percent of victims report their sexual assault to the police; (Bureau of Justice Statistics)
  • Only about 2 percent of all sexual assaults reported to police turn out to be false; (Department of Justice)
  • Among developmentally disabled adults, up to 83 percent of females and 32 percent of males are victims of sexual violence; (Disabled Women's Network)
  • Each year, an estimated 25,000 American women will become pregnant following an act of sexual violence. (American Journal of Preventive Medicine)

Domestic abuse statistics

  • A person is abused in the United States every 9 seconds; (Bureau of Justice Statistics)
  • On average, 3 women are killed by a current or former intimate partner each day in the United States; (Bureau of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics)
  • 1 in 4 women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner; (National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey)
  • 66 percent of female stalking victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner; (National Stalking Resource Center)
  • Domestic violence costs more than $37 billion a year in police involvement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment and lost productivity at companies; (Safe Horizon/Domestic Violence: Statistics & Facts)
  • More than 15 million children witness domestic violence each year in the United States; (Journal of Family Psychology)
  • 3,500 to 4,000 children witness fatal family violence annually in the United States; (National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence)
  • 1 in 4 victims of intimate partner violence are gay, lesbian, transgender or queer. (National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs)
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