“Some say overcomer or thriver. I like those words too. But for me, I choose the word survivor. To engage in the continuous life-long healing process in the aftermath of something traumatic, painful and, at some point, shameful… that’s what being a survivor means to me.”

– Leticia Manzano
HAWC Sexual Assault Services Senior Manager and Survivor

As the Senior Manager of Sexual Assault Services at HAWC, I am eager to share what it means to truly support survivors of sexual violence during April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Given the high rates of assault, I recognize you may even be a survivor yourself. I am certain you know someone who is, even if they have never talked to you about it.

We are still living in a time when the victim is the one who often bears the shame of the assault, instead of the person who perpetrated the violence. My life’s passion is to support survivor’s healing processes and to shift accountability to the person who caused the harm.

When I started working at HAWC 26 years ago, I didn’t know the word survivor. I was assaulted as a child by two different family members and then by a boyfriend in college. I had gotten some counseling as a teenager, and it was helpful. But when I was raped in college, I made the choice many survivors make, I tried to manage the effects like guilt and shame on my own. It was only through working at HAWC I learned the trauma would be lasting. I learned many more coping skills to better help myself.

Like me, most of the survivors who come to HAWC were assaulted by someone they know. Many of these survivors still must regularly interact with their abuser and they live in fear the person could assault them again. The systems theoretically designed to hold abusers accountable too often fail because they are designed with the misguided notion that rapes and assaults are typically committed by strangers. In fact, the opposite is true.

Eight out of ten assaults are committed by someone the person knows. Family members, romantic partners, friends, co-workers, religious leaders, coaches, neighbors – these are the people who commit assaults on the survivors we serve at HAWC. These are people they know and thought they could trust.

The systems also tend to underestimate the impact of the trauma and the way the brain responds during an assault. Far too many of my clients feel guilty about not fighting harder, not stopping the abuse when it was happening. One of the most important things survivors and the community need to know is: to protect ourselves in vulnerable and dangerous situations, humans often freeze. Abusers take advantage of that response.

Believe me when I tell you, freezing is not consenting.

During my tenure at HAWC, I have worked with children, teens, adults, men, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. I have a particular passion for working with immigrant survivors who may not speak English, whose legal status is perhaps in limbo, who are all too often preyed upon without any recourse, and whose culture has often not provided resources for their empowerment. As an immigrant myself, I can personally relate to their experience of helplessness and fear.

I have worked hard to liberate myself from belief systems that diminish my worth and compromise my full humanity. It is such a joyful process to invite those who have been crippled by shame into a new mindset where they can truly begin to see themselves as survivors. It is the greatest privilege of my life to accompany survivors on their journey to healing.

It’s a journey that I have walked, so I know it’s possible.

Possible? Yes! Achievable? Only if survivors can access needed resources and support. That is why, in addition to working with individual survivors, I am very proud to serve on the Office of the Texas Governor’s Sexual Assault Survivors Task Force. This statewide advocacy effort is critical to creating policies and conditions to for survivors to heal and hold perpetrators accountable.

I am so grateful to HAWC for the opportunity to empower survivors and advocate on their behalf. I deeply appreciate the wider community that supports HAWC. The transformation we see in those we serve is made possible by you and your commitment to our movement to end sexual violence.

Thank you and please join me in celebrating HAWC and survivors during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Leticia Manzano

ICYMI: Hear directly from survivors during our Sexual Assault Media Event.

What is #HAWCFutureForward? Learn more about how HAWC is expanding safety and improving access.

Are you ready for a rewarding career empowering survivors of domestic and sexual violence? Join HAWC and #PursueYourPassion! Review open positions and apply today.

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