Every 107 seconds another American is sexually assaulted.
The hard truth is that 68% haven’t reported it to the police, 47% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance and 44% of victims are under the age of 18.
Kristine Irwin understands the issues faced by rape victims, because she was a victim of rape at the age of 19, when a freshman in college.
She was raped and left by the side of the road. A passerby saw her, called 911 and was immediately taken to the hospital. Both the police and her parents were notified, so she was not able to keep her assault hidden from her family and the general public.
She was at the lowest point of her life and decided she had two options.
The first, was to move forward and become a stronger person, turn her tragedy into a positive and realize she was not to blame. This meant she must accept the realization that she had lived through it, it was now part of her life, and find a way to move on with her life.
The second option was to let the incident overcome and consume her, taking her life to a place from which she may never return. That option was considered, but once she reached that crossroad and saw the true light, she realized that she had to use her experience to help others and the only way to do that was to share her story even more publicly.
From this perspective, Kristine made a decision to start Voices of Hope, a non-profit organization. Their mission is to change the way our culture views sexual violence through education and experience, and to spark a conversation that will prevent sexual violence from occurring. Their website voices-of-hope.org is a resource for victims/survivors and Kristine visits organizations, schools and colleges across the nation to speak about sexual violence, how to prevent it and why a survivor needs to be believed and understood.
In addition to speaking engagements, Voices of Hope conducts media campaigns to bring the topic of sexual abuse and rape into the public consciousness.
Voices of Hope strives to change rape culture one voice at a time.
It is Kristine’s hope that by sharing her own personal story other victims will realize they are not alone, and future rapes can be prevented.
She has been spreading her message since 2006. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kristine has spread her word to several of the local colleges and universities and has partnered with Point Park University to initiate the ”Consent Coaster Campaign.”
Originally, six restaurants partnered with Voices of Hope to use and distribute drink coasters bearing a short humorous message about rape. This campaign was timed to run in April, to mesh with Sexual Assault Month.
Point Park University developed their own drink coasters and distributed them throughout the community area surrounding their campus.
The University of Pittsburgh has also partnered with Voices of Hope and Kristine has made frequent visits to the school to speak with various groups and bring her message to the student population. Here’s a comment about one of her presentations:
“Kristine Irwin spoke at the University of Pittsburgh’s first Undy 500, Race Against Sexual Assault and was such a great addition to our event. Her engaging and powerful speech illustrated the painful reality of sexual assault and empowered the audience through her ability to overcome such a traumatic experience. I am so grateful to have had her at our event and will be inviting her back to sexual assault awareness events in the future.” ~ Jasmine Butler – Health & Wellness Committee at the University of Pittsburgh
Discussion Helps Sexual Violence Healing
Bringing sexual violence into the light of discussion helps victims begin the healing process. Kristine has had individuals thank her for spreading her message,
“Several individuals have come up to me after I have spoken or while attending an event and thank me for sharing my story, because this has also happened to them.”
That alone is enough of validation for her that Voices of Hope is doing what she intended it to do.
“Sharing my story was a huge step in my own personal healing. Just like a person coming up to me after an event, it might be their first time opening up and talking about their own experience. That could be a huge step in the personal healing process.”
Victims do no need to shout out their abuse on the rooftops or on Facebook. The simple act of telling one person, whether a professional, a friend or someone they heard speak on the topic, can be the spark to start their healing process.
Kristine discovered that the victims aren’t the only ones that need healing when a rape occurs; friends and family need it as well. Her upcoming book, Voices Of Hope, shares the stories of her family and friends and how they coped with Kristine’s rape experience. The book will be available late this year or early next. The intention is that it will give others coping strategies and the knowledge that they are not alone.
Voices of Hope’s plan is to change the rape culture one voice at a time. It is a non-profit organization and it is always seeking donations to continue the work and spread this important message to women, young and old.
We enjoyed our interview with Kristine for the Soar to Success podcast. Visit our website to listen to it.