“You’re not alone”: Hope and support from a sexual assault survivor


Luke M. Morrow

Sexual assault survivor, educator and victim advocate Becky Fein says “consent is an enthusiastic and on-going agreement between all who are involved. It’s affirmative, which means you’re all at yes, not simply an absence of no” during her presentation on sexual assault on March 5 in the Girvin Student Activities Center.

Luke W. Morrow, Staff Writer

A former Santa Rosa Junior College instructor and survivor of sexual assault discussed psychological practices to help victims recover from sexual assault and gave supportive ideas to those who might know a survivor during a Tuesday evening talk in the Girvin Student Activities Center.

Becky Fein presented “Surviving and Thriving after Sexual Assault: Creating Strength Out of Trauma” to a mostly-female crowd of 50 SRJC students, faculty and staff. In her presentation, Fein shared her own story of surviving assault and the stories of other survivors. She also offered encouraging words to survivors in the room.

“I ask that you take good care of yourselves, and know that I see you, and I believe you,” Fein said.

Fein is speaker for the non-profit organization Active Minds, which supports mental health awareness and education across the nation. She’s delivered numerous presentations and workshops focused on sexual assault and mental health awareness.

Fein’s largest piece of work is the Powerful Voices Project, a “short film series that illuminates the strength and resiliency of sexual assault survivors and empowers them to focus on their personal stories in service to their healing,” according to the Powerful Voices website.

During her third year at UC Davis, Fein lived the life of a normal college student. She was adventurous and decided to spend a semester abroad in Europe, where her life would change forever.

One night, a man gained entry to her hostel room and raped her.

“I froze,” Fein said.

She now knows her visceral reaction was common, but at the time she was inexplicably lost.

“I didn’t want to be in my own body,” Fein said. “I wanted to take a thousand showers. I wanted to disappear.”

Fein fled Europe and spent the next year isolating herself from her friends and family. She reminisced about how uneducated she was about mental health at the time and about the shame, blame and self-doubt she harbored for years.

“My whole career became about changing the conversation about sexual assault,” Fein said, recalling how the trauma changed her life.

Fein’s work through education and support of sexual assault survivors has helped create a new understanding of sexual assault. She believes that even though court cases don’t often swing in the plaintiff’s favor, a survivor’s bravery in speaking out aids the fight for education and justice.

One recent example Fein cited was Stanford professor Christine Blasey Ford’s high-profile testimony against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Fein was amazed Ford decided to tell her story despite the fact there was no chance she could benefit from the experience.

“I was stunned by what I saw, overwhelmed by the courage of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford,” Fein said.

Choosing to channel Ford’s example, Fein empowered the audience to voice their own traumas.  

Human services advocacy program member and sexual assault survivor Alisha Shaw, 33, spoke to Fein at the end of the show. “I got into tears a couple times because, like, the power, the courage for you to stand up there and be the voice of [survivors],” she said.

Shaw one day hopes to educate and advocate the same way as Fein.

“Tonight was incredibly empowering. I am very, very inspired by her courage and her passion,” Shaw said. “For [Fein] to go up there and be the voice for others, it set fire to my own passion.”

SRJC Student Psychological Services therapist Geeta Davidson said she appreciated the fact Fein was local to SRJC and continues to come back to share her message.

Davidson said increasing the number of talks like “Surviving and Thriving” is beneficial to the SRJC community, and she applauded communication on sexual assault becoming more common.

“I think it’s interesting how it’s recently that we’ve been having these conversations and they are conversations that need to be had,” Davidson said.

SRJC human services advocacy program student David Cole, 26, had an emotional reaction to the presentation.

“It’s scary and it’s real,” he said, adding that he attended the event in support of several of his female friends who were sexual assault victims.

While not a survivor himself, Cole had a physical reaction during the talk. “I felt my body tense up because it was pretty powerful,” Cole said and noted that as a “male figure” he thinks it’s beneficial to educate himself more about sexual assault.

Fein also discussed the shocking statistics involved with sexual assault.

“Studies show that only 30 percent of sexual assaults are reported at all – and among college students the number drops to about 20 percent,” Fein said. “Less than 5 percent of rape leads to a perpetrator being arrested – less than 3 percent of reported sexual assault is found to be false.”

Fein said, “The reality is men are far more likely to be the victim of sexual assault themselves, than be falsely accused.”

Even with these statistics, rules are still being implemented on “college campuses to protect men from false accusations of sexual assault,” said Fein. Since such sexual assaults result in few false accusations, Fein believes that colleges should be more focused on supporting victims than protecting those accused.

The way to assist with the prevention of sexual assault, Fein says, is through education and maintaining an “active yes” throughout any sexual activity. An active yes is a continued, ongoing, informed consent that can be rescinded at any time, according to Fein.

Victim advocate Aurora Williams from Verity, a Sonoma County trauma support and education organization, said victims are like people drowning in a river. She believes that events like “Surviving and Thriving” help prevent people from “drowning” in the first place.

“This kind of awareness and education is so important,” she said.

In an effort to continue education on campus, professor of criminal justice at California State University Fullerton and sex crimes expert Alissa Ackerman will present “Restorative Practices for Healing from Sexual Assault” at noon on March 28 in the Girvin Student Activities Center.

Ackerman will explain healing practices for sexual assault survivors which coincide with those from “Surviving and Thriving.”

Yet even with support and education, it can take years for victims to feel comfortable talking about their trauma. Fein wants victims to know it can be incredibly helpful to work through their pain with a support figure.

“Share your story in a way and time that is right for you. Your story matters.”

According to Fein, everyone should try to be an “active bystander,” which is her term for a person who consciously reaches out to someone who might be in need. She said that sometimes making that extra effort to find out how a friend really is could be the first step in a victim’s journey to recovery.

Fein said that in our society it’s hard to take that step to intervene when someone is struggling, since we are told at such a young age to mind our own business. Sometimes just being there for someone can be a huge gesture.

Ultimately, Fein would like everyone to follow through with their actions toward friends, family and even strangers on the off-chance they may be truly in need.

“We create change with all of our large and small actions.”