On Valentine’s Day, five survivors of sexual abuse will step out of the shadows and onto a virtual stage to tell their stories of pain, courage and hope.
“We call them Hometown Heroes,” says Shauna Galloway-Williams, CEO of the Julie Valentine Center in Greenville.
Julie Valentine Center works year-round to provide free, confidential services to victims of child abuse, sexual assault, and sex trafficking.
But a February afternoon is special.
Over the past 12 years, up to 1,000 partners, professionals, donors, employees and friends have come together to highlight issues, hear inspiring stories of survival, financially support the Julie Valentine Center and celebrate its work.
Last week, due to the continued rise in COVID-19 cases in the community, Galloway-Williams and Director of Development Robin Longino made the heartbreaking decision to hold the event virtually instead of hosting a luncheon. in person.
“We believe this is the most responsible decision to make and in the best interests of our community,” says Longino, who has worked at the Julie Valentine Center for more than nine years and whose extensive duties include managing fundraising activities. funds and special events.
But Galloway-Williams promises the virtual experience will be no less special than previous in-person lunches.
“This year’s event shows just how far we’ve come. We talk about the journey of hope and healing. The journey shows survivors that they don’t have to be ashamed and afraid to stand up together and share their stories,” she explains.
“They know they are not alone. They know there is power in sharing their stories and their voices.
The five speakers at the event formed a bond during a writing workshop funded by a grant to JVC from Greenville Women Giving. The speakers worked with a creative writing instructor and published a book of their stories.
In contrast, at the second JVC luncheon in 2012, the stories of survivors were shared in silhouette behind a curtain.
“The survivors did not show their faces. They did not give their names. It was 10 years ago. Fast forward to this year, and we have five speakers who are ready to take the stage in front of a thousand or more guests and share their stories in person,” says Galloway-Williams.
Longino says their courage is inspiring. “This year’s five keynote speakers struggle every day to overcome traumatic and unthinkable experiences. It’s amazing and such an honor to see victims working hard to go from survival to thriving. They are the reason we keep showing up.
Not all abuse survivors choose to tell their story outside the walls of the Julie Valentine Center or take legal action.
“We empower survivors to make those choices themselves, unless it’s a child. Declarations of children must be made. We empower clients to make decisions about their treatment. They lost control of the situations they faced. We want to give them back as much control as possible,” says Galloway-Williams.
Julie Valentine Center evolved and Galloway-Williams oversaw many changes. She began her career with the State Department of Mental Health as a child and adolescent therapist.
“Many of my clients were children and adults who had survived sexual abuse and sexual assault as children. I had no idea at the time how to deal with them,” she says. “So I had to become a specialist in this area.”
Eighteen years ago, she moved to what was then the Greenville Rape and Child Abuse Center. In 2009, she became general manager.
“When I first accepted this position, we were facing significant financial problems. Now we have financial reserves and we are able to make strategic decisions. We don’t operate in 24/7 crisis mode, that’s how we started,” she says.
“We were able to accomplish a lot of things.”
Lunch earned JVC $10,000 in its first year; lunch in 2020 (the last held in person), raised $210,000, according to Longino.
“It has a lot to do with the professionalization of our work. We have a development team. We have strong support and leadership from the Board of Directors. Rebranding us…I think it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made,” says Galloway-Williams.
In 2011, the Greenville Rape and Child Abuse Center was renamed in honor of a baby whose body was found in Greenville County on February 13, 1990. Detectives named the newborn Julie Valentine.
“The old name alone was a deterrent. It was scary for those seeking services, but also for the community and for the donors,” she says.
Times have changed, but Galloway-Williams says society still has a long way to go before people truly understand sexual abuse.
“I consider every opportunity to talk about the Julie Valentine Center as an educational opportunity. I’m shocked that people still cling to certain myths…”this doesn’t happen in our community”…”there’s no way this can happen in our family”…”this person is such a good person’…’there’s no way they could do that,’” she explains.
“Most of the time, children and adults are abused by someone they know, love and trust. Most of the time, this person is also loved and trusted in the community. People still have a hard time believing victims when they come forward, especially if the alleged abuser is well known and respected in the community.
The purpose of Julie Valentine Day is to raise funds to continue educating the community and to continue providing counseling and advocacy services for victims. The goal is to raise $300,000.
“People ask us all the time, ‘How do you do this job? How do you continue, day in and day out, to live and breathe sexual assault and child abuse? Said Galloway-Williams.
“It’s because we see this side. The services we provide, coupled with their resilience and determination, ultimately enabled these five survivors to be brave and bold enough to stand in front of all these people and tell their stories. We see there is hope and there is healing.
Sexual abuse and child abuse are ugly, she acknowledges. “Yet I see beauty every day…beauty in people reclaiming their lives, reclaiming their strength. It’s just amazing to see.
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Greenville SC Julie Valentine Center supports victims of abuse