Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Ithaca Week, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.


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Tompkins County Public Library
The 21st Century Library Campaign

At the beginning of Ana Verahrami’s college career, sexual assault statistics were just numbers. But soon these numbers became part of a personal story. Every 107 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. Verahrami’s 107th second ticked, and she is still trying to find ways to talk about it.

To heal and overcome the experience, she turned to art.

Roughly 18 percent of American women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Justice website.

In an attempt to bring light to the frequency of sexual assault, the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County opened an art show last Friday at Sarah’s Patissiere called “The Art of Surviving,” which featured works from local sexual assault survivors. The show opened in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is in April.

“We wanted to create a space where survivors of sexual violence in our community could demonstrate their creative works that have aided in their healing process,” Tiffany Greco, the Education Director at the Advocacy Center, said. “We wanted to honor the strength and resiliency of survivors of sexual violence.”

The show offered the chance for local artists to bring awareness to a major issue, Samantha Prashad, who is a student at Cornell and whose work is displayed in the exhibition, said.

“I just thought it would be a good way to use my artistic skills and passions for a good cause,” she said.

For a lot of survivors of sexual assault, art is a part of the healing process, Greco said, and for Verahrami it was a way of letting people gain insight into the aftermath of her assault.

“For me, surviving what comes after it…the healing process is one of the hardest things,” Verahrami said. “I shared my [artwork] as a photo on Facebook… It was something that I was proud of and I wanted it to be something that conveyed my biggest struggles with overcoming this. My close friends and family knew, but this was the first time [completely sharing the information].”

Support from the community is a great side effect of the exhibition, Verahrami added.

“If there is somewhere out there that you can support survivors I think it’s really important that people go and show their support because it’s a hard thing to deal with,” she said. “I really am thankful that this community has come together to support survivors.”

Both Ithaca College and Cornell University are publicly encouraging the reporting of sexual assaults, but it is still common — with an average of .43 assaults occurring per every 1,000 students on local campuses, according to a data analysis completed by The Washington Post. Cornell urges any students who have experience sexual assault to report it to the police, David Honan, the Deputy Chief of Operations of the Cornell University Police said.

“We encourage anyone who is a victim of a sexual assault to report it to the police,” he said. “We work closely with victims and their advocates to collect evidence, document the crime and if the victim wishes and there is sufficient evidence, proceed with prosecution.”

Both Ithaca College and Cornell University offer a SHARE (Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education) program to their students, and the Advocacy Center has many resources for survivors of sexual assault, including a local safe house in Ithaca with 9 beds.

“We provide ongoing emotional support in the form of counseling,support groups, and therapy referrals,” Greco said. “If someone has been recently sexually assaulted we can provide accompaniment to the hospital for a Sexual Assault Nurse Exam (SANE) at Cayuga Medical Center, accompaniment to law enforcement, safe shelter in our safe house, or we can simply speak with someone anonymously on our 24 hour hotline 277-5000.”

“The Art of Surviving” will be on display in Sarah’s Patisserie until the end of the month.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.