April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. This month Empower Yolo is mindful of all survivors of sexual abuse and the clients we’ve worked closely with this year. In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) website. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn eighteen years old, (NSVRC). Nearly 700,000 children are abused annually, see National Children’s Alliance (NCA) website. Of the children who experienced abuse, 8.4% suffered sexual abuse, (NCA).

In 2018, Empower Yolo advocates served 209 sexual assault survivors 68 were adults and 141 were children. In an effort to support youth survivors of sexual abuse, Empower Yolo recently started a “My Body My Choice” support group for teenage survivors and a group for parents of teenaged survivors which runs concurrently. The groups are once a week for eight sessions. “These groups were designed primarily to create a support system for the teens and help parents learn how to better support their children, but secondarily, as a way for parents to learn how to give that support more effectively and receive support themselves from other parents in similar situations,” says Elaine Johnson, APCC, Associate Therapist at Empower Yolo.

The youth group is for teen survivors ages 13-17 who experienced a form of sexual trauma. Many group participants were referred from the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, and other community agencies, but a referral is not necessary, “only a desire for support,” Johnson says. The idea is to support as many teen/parent pairings as possible, but the groups also accept just teens or just parents. Johnson facilitates the youth group, and Lisa Young, MSW Intern Therapist at Empower Yolo runs the parent group.

Once a group is formed it becomes a closed group not open to new participants. “This allows the participants to build relationships and trust, getting to know each other better with each meeting. The greater the trust, the more they are able to bond over their shared experience and decrease the sense of isolation that often follows trauma,” Johnson says.

These groups are important to help survivors heal from the trauma they experienced. “The groups give survivors a sense of connection, an opportunity to talk about their experiences with other people who have been through something similar and can relate to their feelings and challenges in a way that parents, teachers and friends can’t share,” says Johnson. “It’s also an opportunity for the young people to build self-compassion and identify red flags early on and avoid potentially unhealthy relationship patterns as they grow up,” Johnson says.

Although the groups are new, they are seeing positive results. The pilot group demographic is mostly girls, and group leaders are noticing an almost immediate bond with participants building trust and forming friendships, “that’s when I knew we were headed in the right direction,” Johnson says. Also, “parents say they have seen a difference in their children, that they seem ‘more connected,’ which is great progress,” Johnson says.

The next 8-week session will be held in our West Sacramento location. If anyone in the community is interested in attending or knows someone who might benefit from being a part of this group please contact the main office at 530-661-6336, or for questions contact [email protected].

“The best way to support any survivor of sexual assault is to ‘believe without blame’,” says Johnson. “Youth, especially, find sexual trauma very confusing, as well as frightening, particularly because their sexual experience and exposure can be very limited. They frequently blame themselves and often aren’t entirely sure if what happened to them was even wrong. For many, ‘telling’ is like being traumatized all over again. Each survivor handles their experience in the only way they know how. Being an empathetic listener and following the survivor’s lead as to how much and with whom they want to share is the best way to earn their trust,” says Johnson.

How can you help survivors of abuse in our community? Get Involved.

 In Honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month Yolo County Child Abuse Prevention Council, Resilient Yolo and Foster & Kinship Care Education invite the community to a free screening of the film Resilience: The Biology of Stress & The Science of Hope. This is an event to learn about community resources and how to promote resilience in children. There are two screenings: Wednesday, April 24, 6-8 p.m.; Woodland Community College, Building 800-Community Room, 2300 E. Gibson Road, Woodland; and Monday, April 29, 6-8 p.m.; Arthur F. Turner Community Library, 1212 Merkley Ave., West Sacramento. For more information go to empoweryolo.org.

In Recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month the “Friends of Empower Yolo” invite you to participate in an April “Shower for the Shelter,” a donation drive for Empower Yolo’s safe shelter to support survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Saturday, April 27, 2019, 1-4 p.m. at D Street House, 441 D Street, Davis. Donate new shower items such as sheets, blankets, pillows and towels for our safe house. Meet staff and learn about vital services Empower Yolo provides the community. A full wish list can be found at empoweryolo.org. For questions please contact [email protected].

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