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Sep. 11, 2017 #93-253 a2z
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Gaining the courage to talk about her rape

Mary Hall
mhall@daily-journal.com


By her own account, Sierra is not a stereotypical teen girl. She loves four-wheeling and knows her heavy metal.

The high school senior, currently working two jobs, said she loves cooking and wants to go into the food industry — maybe even as a chef — once she graduates.

While that narrative isn't atypical, Sierra, an 18-year-old from Danforth who was sexually abused by her father for years, has become a spokesperson against sexual assault, working with the Kankakee County Center Against Sexual Assault.

Sierra will speak tonight at Take Back the Night in Watseka, an annual Iroquois Sexual Assault Services event during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Each year more than 10,000 sexual assault victims are served by the Illinois Center Against Sexual Assault, according to a recent report by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

According to the report, 90 percent of sexual assault victims are women or girls; and in 85 percent of cases, the abuser was someone the victim knew. One in five perpetrators were an immediate family member.

"He's the reason I changed my last name." That's the way Sierra describes her biological father today, the man she says sexually assaulted her between the ages of 9 and 13.

"I held it in that long," Sierra said.

"Then, afterwards, he would make me go wake my brother up, and I would wake my brother up bawling my eyes out."

She went from an outgoing, talkative girl to shy and tearful. Those around her noticed, but she always had an excuse, Sierra said. He stifled her relationships with friends, family, teachers, even with her brother and mother.

"Anytime I got caught talking to [my mom or brother], or playing video games with my brother, I got yelled at," she said. "If I went over to a friend's house, I had to call him when I got there, just hanging out, before I went to bed, when I woke up and before I got picked up.

"He threatened me a lot that if I told, that he would kill me or he would kill himself," she said. "Being the age I was, that terrified me. That made me completely shut down and not say anything. ... I never could get the courage to until that day."

That day came when Sierra was in the seventh grade. Her mom had recently kicked Sierra's father from the house.

"I couldn't handle it anymore; I realized it was completely wrong," she said. "I kept thinking, I can't keep getting hurt. ... There's got to be somebody out there that's going to hear my voice and understand that this isn't right and help me out."

Sierra confided in her best friend and the friend's mother. The three talked to Sierra's mom, who filed a police report, which led to an arrest. But it was far from over — she had to testify during the court case, in which he received a 34-year prison sentence.

This is why Sierra agreed to speak at Take Back the Night.

"I'm reliving it for a good cause," she said. "And that's what motivates me to help others ... because I know how tough it is, to go through what you went through with no one to talk to."

Four years after her father was sent to prison, this self-described tomboy is planning her outfit to prom and her future after graduation. Sierra says she also plans to keep speaking out.

"My story isn't the best; I wouldn't wish it on anyone," Sierra said. "But I realized people do care and I can help people — and those are good things that I like to look on better than looking on my past."

6 facts about sexual assault

1. Children tell an average of seven people what had happened before they are believed, according to the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

2. Only about 2 percent of all sexual assault accusations reported to police turn out to be false. This is the same rate of false reporting as other types of violent crime, according to a 2000 study by Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect.

3. Services to Hispanic victims increased by more than 20 percent in the last five years; in 2015, nearly one in four victims was Hispanic, according to data collected by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. In response, KC-CASA has begun giving their sexual abuse presentations in local schools in both English and Spanish.

4. In the last five years, there were more than 42,000 anonymous requests for sexual abuse crisis intervention in Illinois, or about 9,000 per year, according to data collected by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

5. In 2014 the definition of rape was expanded to indicate either gender can be victims, as well as perpetrators, which has led to an increase with male clients seeking services, said KC-CASA child therapist Kerrie Blanton.

6. Although they make up the smallest percentage of victims overall in 2015, the number of rape victims age 50 or older grew by 10 percent. And, the older the age of the victim, the less likely the offender will be convicted, according to data collected by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

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