2023 Chrysalis INSPIRED Event featuring Rachael Denhollander

2023 Chrysalis INSPIRED Event featuring Rachael Denhollander

The INSPIRED Event presentation on November 13, 2023, by Rachael Denhollander was both meaningful and relevant to our work – Of the important information Ms. Denhollander provided, we would like to share a few highlights that we found significant.

Ms. Denhollander opened by sharing that often in discussions about sexual assault, men are blamed as being the major cause of this problem. What is important to remember, she noted, is that if women could end the problem of sexual assault, we would have done so a long time ago. Men in our lives, including those in Ms. Denhollander’s (and Chrysalis INSPIRED Men), are positive influences and willing to help and support us, which is critical in addressing this issue.

Another key point was her message to those who have been victimized: you are not crazy, melodramatic, or weak, your pain is legitimate, and the abuse is not your fault. The problem of sexual assault is much more common than we many think, she reported, and of over 3.6 million cases of child abuse reported each year in our country, experts estimate that two more incidents remain unreported. Over 2/3 of children who are sexually abused (1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys overall), are abused by a family member in their own home.

Sharing several “untruths” that childhood victims often believe, Ms. Denhollander related the following “lies”:

1. If you cannot prove your abuse, don’t say anything.

2. I am overreacting – the problem is in my head.

3. Abuse doesn’t look like this.

4. The perpetrator certainly could not be an abuser – he/she is too nice, so respected, very popular…they simply could not be a perpetrator, (abusers deliberately create a persona that makes it difficult to believe they are guilty – think priests, physicians, people in power, etc.), and depend on community support to keep victims silent.

We know that the trauma experienced by persons who are victimized is very real. Compared with peers who may have not experienced sexual assault, these victims are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to suffer from PTSD, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide. According to psychologists, of all crimes committed on a person, sexual assault causes more harmful effects that any other crime.

The challenge becomes the internal dialogue going on in the mind of the victim - the shock, the confusion, the guilt, or the gaslighting. Victims often can no longer identify what is and what is not normal – the experience becomes what they believe is “normal” and their sense of reality and normalcy become shaped by their experience.

What can be done? Learn the signs of sexual abuse. Believe what a victim tells you. Respond with care and concern, and find people trained in working with victims to assist.

Rachael Denhollander stated “this is why the Chrysalis Foundation is so absolutely vital to this community” because we work to prevent abuse before it occurs (through Chrysalis After-School and GirlPower programs), we fund programs and services that provide skilled care and legal support, and we build public knowledge and awareness about issues including sexual abuse.

In her closing remarks, Ms. Denhollander provided this encouragement: “Hope is a beautiful thing, and we are privileged to be able to share in this work.”