Click to hear these survivors talk about their experiences with sexual assault, and how it changed their lives. | Videos by Shelly Yang

Sexual assault survivors: Believe us, protect us, educate, act

Graphic content warning: These stories and videos contain sensitive material relating to sexual assault and/or violence that may be disturbing to readers or triggering to survivors.

Published November 3, 2016

The stories are graphic, disheartening, sickening and sad — uncomfortable to absorb.

They are uncomfortable because they are the stories of those our community has let down: the person groped at a concert, the girlfriend assaulted multiple times by a boyfriend, the employee with the sexually explicit supervisor, a woman raped by a stranger in her home.

They make us hurt because they are stories of an insidious part of our culture that we have failed to fix.

More than 350 people shared stories of sexual harassment and assault through a survey The Star circulated recently. Others reached out to The Star directly, eager to be part of a conversation they insist must expand beyond the latest election cycle.

Teenagers, men, women of all ages told their stories.

Believe us, they said. Work to eradicate a culture that shames or questions those who come forward to report an assault.

Protect us, they said. Continue to provide resources for people escaping sexual violence and expand access for others. Punish those who violate boundaries and abuse positions of power.

Educate. Teach children the importance of consent early, and strengthen sexual education programs for school-aged children.

Speak out. Encourage men to be a louder voice against sexual violence. Become a crusader against sexual assault.

Mostly, they asked everyone to listen. Without judgment or skepticism, politics and personal opinion aside.

Listen, they insisted, and be moved to action.

Survey shows how many live with harassment, assault

On harassment

Sexual harassment is a frequent part of everyday life, said most of the respondents to The Star’s survey. Seventy-one percent of the 350 respondents said they had been harassed five or more times. The majority of the respondents were women.

How many times have you been harassed? (329 responses)

How old were you when the incident(s) happened? Multiple responses were possible.(327 responses)

Did you tell anyone? Multiple responses were possible.(325 responses)

The workplace and school are the places people most often experienced harassment, but for many there is no refuge from behavior or comments that make them uncomfortable.

“Everywhere; on the sidewalk, at the grocery store, on the bus, other people’s homes,” one respondent wrote about sexual harassment she faces. “Anywhere that isn’t my home.”

On assault

Most respondent to The Star’s survey experienced an assault when they were under the age of 24. According to Jen Brockman, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center at the University of Kansas, women ages 15 to 24 are most often the victims of sexual assault but, “vulnerability of that group increases after the age of 62 because as we age, more people have access to us.”

How many times have you been assaulted? (286 responses)

How old were you when the incident(s) happened? Multiple responses were possible.(284 responses)

Did you tell anyone? Multiple responses were possible.(284 responses)

For males, those most at risk are boys under the age of 18. And Brockman said it is common that someone would be a victim of sexual assault more than once.

“I’ve been doing advocacy work for 15 years, and I can tell you that women who are sexually abused as a child are seven times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault as an adult.”

In their own words: Survivors share their stories

13 selfies, 13 stories of assault

Read the story

70 raw stories show range of harassment and assault

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KC-area resources for sexual assault survivors

Several participants in The Star’s survey said that sharing personal stories is a powerful way to ignite a conversation about sexual assault and inspire action that can prevent it.

“Everybody is sort of exploring the conversation of what should be done, what can we do? People are having (the conversation) on their decks, in their living rooms, in social settings,” said Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. “People are shaking their heads and saying, ‘How can this be?’ I think (speaking out) is the next step.”

Others wanted to see men become more vocal advocates against sexual assault.

“I definitely think that males need to step up and speak up,” said Hannah, a 22-year-old college student. “If they don’t, I don’t know how it could change in our community.”

Many community organizations are devoted to supporting those who have experienced sexual and domestic violence, including: