Survivor stories

Survivor Stories: Sara

March 2, 2016

Friend of a Survivor (Carson)

Sara and Carson have been friends since before high school, but the first year they went to college, things changed. Sara lived away from home for the first time. Carson attended a different university. The distance made it more difficult for them to maintain a friendship. They had to rely on phone calls to stay up-to-date.

(Watch a video and read more about Carson.)

Years earlier during high school, Carson confided in Sara that she had been sexually abused at a young age by a friend’s father who lived on her street.

“Carson experienced a normal level of anxiety (during high school), but the new stresses of college turned her anxiety into something more,” said Sara. “Before, Carson handled it herself; she had learned to cope. But soon I started seeing symptoms that I’d never seen before.”

Panic attacks made it difficult for Carson to leave the house, which interfered with her school and job.

“We started to recognize that this problem was beyond both of us,” added Sara. Carson had not told her parents about the abuse yet and she was concerned they would find out if she talked to her primary care physician. Sara searched online for resources and they jointly decided that Cleveland Rape Crisis Center offered the most confidentiality. They scheduled a day to meet and take the bus to the Center – together.

“I had a feeling of absolute helplessness before we came to the Center,” said Sara. “I had done everything I could to offer advice. I knew Carson was unhappy, miserable and anxious. And not being able to see her made it even more difficult.”

Sara came with Carson to her first few therapy appointments at the Center. Eventually, Carson managed the trips on her own.

In the last 18 months, since they first came to the Center, Sara believes the most noticeable change in Carson is the higher level of confidence that she exhibits.

“Carson still struggles with anxiety. She still has days that are really difficult,” said Sara. “But she has the tools to deal with it now.”

Sara has grown to be quite proud of Carson, not just for the way she has overcome her own trauma, but because she is now speaking out to help other survivors.

“It is really inspiring to see Carson’s willingness to discuss her sexual assault with others. I remember when it was too painful for her to even tell me, then her parents. Now she is talking publicly – what a remarkable departure from where we were!”

There are thousands of friends in Cuyahoga County who, like Sara, are supporting survivors of sexual violence. Sara offers three pieces of advice:

It can be hard to find the right words to support a survivor. Sara learned that sometimes you don’t have to say anything. It helps to just be there – physically or emotionally.

It is important to recognize when problems are beyond what you can handle. For Sara and Carson, it was hard to convince themselves that this was more than they could handle. They learned it is okay to acknowledge when you need help.

For Sara, it was easy to lose herself in Carson’s struggles. When you are supporting a survivor day in and day out, it is okay to step back and take some time for yourself.

Sara also acknowledged that coming to the Center was not her decision. “It was up to Carson to decide,” Sara added. “My job was to know the resources and present the options without judgment. That’s what friends are for.”

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