STAMFORD, Conn. -- Karen Mello endured more than 30 years of emotional pain as the victim of sexual abuse. Now that she has healed, the director of development and communications for The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education in Stamford is taking the next step and has created a survivor advisory council to raise awareness about sexual assault and abuse.
Mello, a Bethel resident, and five other founding members started to meet in January. SHINE -- Survivors Helping to Inspire New Endings -- plans to share its stories to let other victims and survivors know that they are not alone. Mello cites statistics that report 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they reach age 18.
New members are invited to join SHINE at its monthly meetings. The Center serves Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Weston, Westport and Wilton.
“The meetings are not a support group,’’ Mello said. “The meetings are for those who have been through the journey and received help and support and are at the next level. We want to share our stories to help others.”
Nearly 1 in 5 Connecticut residents has experienced a sexual assault. In Connecticut, 14 percent of state residents have experienced childhood sexual assault, and in more than 90 percent of the cases, the child will know the assailant.
The story is familiar for Mello, who was assaulted as a 9-year-old. “The damage it did to me was life-changing. ... For many years I buried it and didn't talk about it, which made things worse,’’ she said. “As a result of the abuse, I suffered from depression, low self-esteem, troubled relationships and control issues and finally reached my rock-bottom.”
With counseling, family support and determination, Mello fought through her personal challenges. Now, she and the other founding members of SHINE -- Michelle Giorno, Cora Delibertis, Shelly Ransom and Clifton Benham -- are prepared to share their stories.
“This is not how our stories are not going to end, by being victims of abuse, but by being a voice about this issue in our community,’’ said Delibertis, a Norwalk resident and a sexual assault victim as a girl. “We’re a voice for others who may not have their own voice yet. We also want to show victims and survivors that there is hope ahead, that it does get better and you can reach a whole new level of healing and giving back.”
The healing path varies. Mello and other professionals find sexual assault victims feel stigmatized, are reluctant to come forward and find people disbelieve their stories. Hopefully, SHINE will help expedite healing, and victims can move on with fulfilled lives and less emotional pain.
"My journey of healing ultimately led me to The Center and today, with the help of many, I am blessed to be doing the work that I love and am passionate about, raising funds and awareness of this important issue," Mello said. "I feel a responsibility to share my story so that victims and survivors can feel more comfortable to come forward to seek help and also to help prevent this from happening to others. Everyone in SHINE feels the same way."
For more information or to join SHINE, contact Karen at email@example.com. Click here to visit the Center's website.
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