Sexual abuse survivor shares her story with the community at candlelight vigil

Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 10:20 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Sexual abuse survivors step out of the dark and into the light at First Free Rockford Church for a third annual candlelight vigil honoring those who have persevered past the pain of sexual violence.

A powerful evening at First Free Church in Rockford as the community gathers for the third annual Dispelling the Darkness ceremony to raise awareness on sexual abuse.

Bethany Watson says she first experienced sexual abuse at the hands of her father at the age of three. The daily attacks continued until Bethany was 13. Without a voice, she didn’t know what to do.

“I am here to release the shame and guilt,” says Watson. “I was self-destructive, suicidal, depressed. Living in darkness. I had no one as an ally or anyone to speak out for me.”

Watson is one of a handful of courageous survivors who shared their stories at Thursday’s Dispelling the Darkness candlelight vigil, letting those in attendance know there’s no shame but only help.

“Most of the time I avoided the root of the problem and was seeking out help for the symptoms of it. It wasn’t until I was then raped as an adult.”

Watson says she was assaulted at a party and the trauma returned. That’s when she turned to Rockford Sexual Assault Counseling.

“It’s not a one-time thing. They carry you throughout the whole process, whether it’s through legal health counseling, they’re there to support you through the whole thing,” says Watson.

It doesn’t matter if it happened 50 years ago or two days ago. Executive Director Erica Engler says RSAC wants to inform others that it’s not ok to touch anybody else without consent.

“It’s so important for the community to realize, you know, that survivors need our support. And this is one of the ways that we can offer that support to them,” says Engler. “Those are the foundation blocks for preventing sexual violence in the future.

“We have to make people uncomfortable. So that it changes the statistics,” says Watson.

Rockford Sexual Assault Counseling offers crisis intervention, medical/legal advocacy, therapy, and prevention/professional education prevention its patients across Winnebago, Boone and Ogle County. These services are free and confidential.

Tonight’s event raised more than $10,000 to help RSAC offer its services to the community.