For some who have been sexually abused, the abuse can define the rest of their lives. But a luncheon today honors survivors for their courage and strength, and reminds them that tools are available to help them move on.
The annual luncheon at the Days Inn at the Falls is sponsored by Niagara County Rape Crisis Services, a division of the Niagara County Department of Mental Health.
It is for both those who provide services and all survivors who have "endured and thrived" after the trauma of rape and sexual assault. That includes adults who have survived childhood sexual abuse.
Program Supervisor Carol L. Ross said that for many years, crisis services held the luncheon to recognize service providers, but in the past eight years has focused on individuals the agency has served. It is called the annual survivors luncheon.
"Sexual abuse is so traumatic, but we try not to use the word victim," Ross said. "We say they have survived and thrived. Those are the two key words. In the initial stages, they are in the survivor mode and then, as they deal with it, they start to thrive. Their life doesn't become based on this abuse."
Ross said the luncheon has grown larger each year, and this year was booked solid with nearly 120 survivors -- both men and women -- as well as service providers.
"I think this makes the point that they are survivors," Ross said of the luncheon. "It's amazing to be in the room and hear people at the tables say how amazing it is to not be the only one [who has survived abuse]. They are not ashamed and afraid. It's very empowering."
Each year, a survivor shares his or her story, including the history, trauma and journey toward healing.
In addition, the luncheon also offers meditation, visualization and coping techniques. Ross said the survivors also make a "treasure bag" they can use to store keepsakes, such as a stone or picture, anything they have on hand that will help them cope.
Information on other survivor organizations also are offered, such as details about the It Happened to Alexa Foundation. This Lewiston group offers funding to victims of sexual assault and stands by their side so they can fight their case in court and go from victim to survivor.