Survivors of sexual assault Take Back the Night in downtown DeKalb

Survivors, advocates share stories, rally in solidarity for Sexual Assault Awareness Month with Safe Passage

Kelsey Gettle, Safe Passage legal program manager, leads marchers back to the Egyptian Theatre Tuesday, April 2, 2024, during Take Back the Night in DeKalb. The event, hosted by Safe Passage, is in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and featured speakers and a march.

DeKalbNorthern Illinois University student Emma said she believes that growing up, she lived in what some might think was your typical middle-class family downstate in Champaign.

Emma – who the Daily Chronicle has granted partial anonymity to because she is a survivor of sexual assault – said she loves to crochet and babysit. What people might not know, however, is that she suffered sexual abuse as a child, she said.

Tuesday marked 11 years since she was forced to move out of her home, she said.

“I had to get a job, push away all of my [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I’m autistic. So socializing [and] learning how to communicate with people is not a strong suit of mine. But I did it 11 years ago tonight. I worked in a nursing home at night, and I went to high school during the day and graduated this last year,” she said.

Emma was among several survivors of sexual assault who spoke out in testimony Tuesday during Take Back the Night.

The annual event, put on by DeKalb County’s only domestic violence shelter, Safe Passage, aimed to shine a spotlight on survivors of sexual assault and spread awareness to combat further violence.

Emma said she is thankful to be in a better place in her life.

The event was held to kick off the domestic violence shelter’s annual commemoration of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Safe Passage also will partner with NIU’s prevention education and outreach department to hold a Walk a Mile in Their Shoes event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 20 at the NIU Convocation Center, 1525 W. Lincoln Highway, DeKalb. The event’s registration begins at 10:30 a.m.

Tuesday’s program consisted of a march in the city’s downtown area followed by keynote remarks by Mindy Robles, an NIU graduate and a sexual assault nurse examiner for the DuPage West Region, which includes Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee and Valley West hospitals.

In her remarks, Robles said she is committed to providing trauma-informed care to anyone in need.

Robles is one of three sexual assault nurse examiner coordinators for the DuPage West Region.

“We’re on call,” Robles said. “We go to whatever hospitals our patients or survivors need us at. We need continued education. We just keep learning the forensic science, the data analysis, the evidence collection. … It’s this ever-evolving field that I think is very exciting.”

Robles said she first became inspired to become a sexual assault nurse examiner while working in an emergency department.

“One of my first patients when I got offered orientation was a sexual assault patient,” she said.

Robles said she has come to realize over time that there’s a lot more to know about tending to a survivor of sexual assault than what she initially had been trained and educated on.

“I felt I wanted to advocate for my patient,” she said. “I wanted to do the best that I could.”

Emma said she is grateful to have come to realize there are resources such as Safe Passage in the community.

“I’ve done every kind of therapy imaginable,” she said. “I’ve been in and out of rehab. I hadn’t tried a support group. This is my first support group. I have recently joined, and it has changed my life forever.

“I really cannot explain how a community helps a survivor. I felt so alone here even though I worked so hard to get here. I go to college here. I truly do not feel like I belonged until I joined Safe Passage. A community is how you grow strong, is how you spread awareness, is how things change.”

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