MISHAWAKA—On Monday, Feb. 22, the Wellness Center is beginning a sexual assault survivor’s group for women titled “Rise Above.” Meetings will take place in the BIG room on the fourth floor of the Academic Center every Monday through April 19 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sign-ups are not required. The only request is that attendees make sure to begin attending on the first or second week so that they can glean as much from the experience as possible.
According to Chelsea Luke, B.A., M.S., the Wellness Center’s licensed mental health counselor associate, the group is for any female who has experienced sexual trauma at any point in their life.
“It can be past, childhood, or something more recent,” Luke said. “Typically, we encourage, if it’s still ongoing, that you seek more immediate help. But we’re always here to support any woman who is going through something like that.”
The group is open to any female who has been sexually harassed or assaulted, whether through physical touch of private areas or even virtual coercion into sending compromising pictures, a growing concern in a world digitized by a pandemic.
“We need to be more aware of [virtual] sexual trauma,” Luke said. “That can be very traumatizing to be coerced into sending pictures, and you may think it’s your choice, it’s still not your choice if you’re being coerced in one way or another.”
The group is primarily discussion based and is designed to be a safe space, a space that is unique because women know that they are conversing with other women who understand their experiences in a way the general public cannot.
“So often, women who have been traumatized don’t get the support they need,” Luke said. “They aren’t believed, they don’t have someone they can really tell their story to, so this is an opportunity for them to be able to share if they choose and to feel that empowerment from other women who are likeminded and can help them in that process of moving forward.”
Luke said that this collective experience can fluctuate depending on the needs of participants.
“It’s different from individual because it’s the collective experience and not just your own stuff,” Luke said. “It’s a little different every year.”
The decision was made to discontinue sign-ups this year in order to eliminate as many barriers as possible.
“The more there is barriers in the way . . . it may have felt like proving themselves to be in the group, and I don’t want that to be the message being sent,” Luke said. “I want them to feel welcomed and heard and understood. And they may not feel ready to share yet, and that’s okay.”
Luke said that the sense of camaraderie the group builds with each other has been helpful within the group and beyond the group.
“I really think it just helps people to not feel alone,” Luke said. “When we break the silence, when we’re able to share the story and it’s believed, there’s support there, there’s trust there, there’s some safety, some sense of safety being built there, there’s some real power in that.”
Luke realizes this is difficult for individuals to cope with and she hopes they will be willing to come and seek the healing that they need.
“I know this is an uncomfortable topic, and I know it’s hard to come forward,” Luke said. “And it’s hard to admit, walking into a room and knowing that the other people there have experienced things in the same nature . . . I hope people feel the courage to walk into that room and then see what happens from there.”
Any questions about the program or about the counseling and therapy services offered by the Wellness Center can be directed to Luke via her Bethel email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling the Wellness Center at 574.807.7370.