Victim, to Survivor, to Advocate

By Venkayla Haynes

*This post contains references to sexual assault that could be triggering for some readers.*

Growing up I loved watching shows such as Law & Order SVU. I admired Mariska Hargitay who played Sergeant Olivia Benson. She is such a powerful woman who helps solve cases of sexual assault victims both men and women, but fighting against sexual assault on TV is not the only thing she does. Mariska Hargitay is the Founder and President of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which helps victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. Mariska Hargitay has inspired me to help sexual assault victims get the justice they deserve by wanting to become a forensic pathologist specializing in sex crimes. In addition to becoming a forensic pathologist, I want to fight against the law in Georgia that states that men cannot be raped because this is not just a women’s issue. Sexual violence can have mental, emotional, and physical effects on a survivor.

My first encounter with sexual assault started at a very young age. From the ages of 12-17 I was molested by someone I trusted. Over those 5 years I dealt with depression, anger, and many suicide attempts. After moving, I soon graduated from high school and it was time for college. Going into college I still dealt with depression and anger but I didn’t let it show, I wanted to enjoy my freshmen year and put my abuse behind me. Unfortunately, I was raped my freshmen year of college by someone who I also trusted. It was very hard for me to not only deal with a five year abuse but to deal with being raped in college as well. A college education should not include a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted.

During my sophomore year I told my story at an event, my emotions completely took over but I was able to finish, which was a huge breakthrough for me. After telling my story I decided to get counseling and I soon became a sexual assault awareness advocate. My junior year of college I became an ItsOnUs Student Advisory Committee Member. ItsOnUs is a campaign launched by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden that fights against sexual assault on college campuses. It was great to see that two of the most powerful men in the world cared about such an important issue that affects not only college campuses, but high schools, work environments, communities, and the military as well. With ItsOnUs I hosted events on my college campus, went to high schools in Atlanta to speak to students about the campaign and educate them on sexual assault, talk to school administration about better ways to deal with the issue, and helped give survivors the support and resources they need. Many students are unaware of what Title IX is, so it is very important to me to make sure that survivors know their rights.

Being involved with ItsOnUs helped me gain a voice, and gave me the opportunity to meet the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden and visit the White House. The best thing about being an advocate is meeting other survivors, supporting them, and helping them find the right resources. It’s on us to be a part of the solution and not the problem. It is time that we stop questioning the credibility of the victim more than the guilt of the individual accused. It’s on us to end sexual assault.

Vice President Joe Biden, left, embraces Spelman College student and sexual abuse victim Venkayla Haynes after he spoke at Morehouse College as part of a campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Vice President Joe Biden, left, embraces Spelman College student and sexual abuse victim Venkayla Haynes after he spoke at Morehouse College as part of a campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Vice President Joe Biden takes photos with Morehouse College faculty, staff and students at an "It's On Us" event, held at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, Nov. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
Vice President Joe Biden takes photos with Morehouse College faculty, staff and students at an “It’s On Us” event, held at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, Nov. 10, 2015. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)