DeKALB – Wendy Jones said it was by the grace of God, Safe Passage, and the community that she was standing before the group Friday night.
The 39-year-old DeKalb woman said she has endured child abuse, incest, multiple rapes, and mutilations, some of which were committed by her own family. She was going to give up on hope until she met with the counselors at Safe Passage.
“I lived in constant fear and never felt safe anywhere until I walked through the doors of Safe Passage,” Jones said.
Jones was one of the survivors who spoke out about their experiences in dealing with sexual assault at Friday’s Take Back the Night/Survivor Speak-Out, hosted by Safe Passage. Marj Askins, the community education specialist for Safe Passage, said the event aims to increase awareness about sexual assault in the community.
“It’s a more intimate event to give survivors and their loved ones a chance to speak their experiences, and to have a voice, talking about what they’ve been through and how they’re recovering,” Askins said.
Given the statistics, Askins said everyone knows someone who has been the victim of some kind of sexual assault or abuse.
Jennifer Morrow is one of those people. Morrow said she attended Friday’s event to support the friends she knows have been sexually assaulted.
“I think a lot of times still, even though people know about sexual assault and sexual abuse, it’s not talked about,” said the 28-year-old Northern Illinois University student. “People still feel like there’s not necessarily a place for them to talk about it and heal from it. I think it’s important for them to know there are people who care.”
Morrow said she tries to make it known to her friends that she’s always available to talk if they need it.
Local law enforcement agencies and officials showed their support for Friday’s event. As a group of 30 people marched down First Street and into downtown DeKalb, they were escorted by an NIU police cruiser and a DeKalb police cruiser.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack and his wife Jackie also were in attendance. Schmack said his wife used to work with Safe Passage when it was an extension of the Ben Gordon Center.
Schmack said his office works constantly with Safe Passage on sexual assault and domestic violence cases, as well as NIU’s response team on sexual assault. He encouraged victims of all ages and genders to report their sexual assaults, and his office is there to help if the victims want it.
“This is the kind of offense we’re not going to prosecute if the victim doesn’t want it to be prosecuted,” Schmack said. “This is the kind of thing that is totally victim-centered. ... We won’t go forward with it unless the victim wants us to.”