Ohio victims speaking out gives courage to local survivors

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - With strength and gratitude Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight spoke out after nearly a decade of captivity.

"I want everyone to know how happy I am to be home with my family and my friends," said Berry.

"I may have been through hell and back but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face," said Knight. "I will not let the situation define who I am."

"I would say thank you for the support," said DeJesus.

When the women were rescued in May from a man accused of kidnapping and abusing them, the details shocked the nation.

What's more shocking is that their story of abuse of far more common than many would like to believe.  According to Baton Rouge's Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response group, or STAR, one in four women and one in seven boys will be sexually abuse in their life.

Rachael Hebert is the executive director of STAR.  The nonprofit group dedicated to helping sexual abuse victims.   She says most abuse goes unreported out of fear or shame.  However, she believes the three Cleveland women speaking up publicly will help set a strong example.

In fact, with so much media attention focused on this case and others, Hebert says more survivors have found the courage to come forward and that STAR's clientele has nearly doubled.

"With this case being excepted by the public and the public outcry being so great that the perpetrator needs to be held accountable, survivors feel more comfortable that they will be believed and supported," explained Hebert.

STAR counselors say community support, like that shown in Ohio, is key in preventing sexual abuse and helping survivors heal.

STAR has a 24-Hour Crisis Hotline to assist sexual abuse victims.  That number is (225) 383-7273.  Other resources for victims can be found on their web site, www.brstar.org.

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