Local View Column: Duluth has a superpower ready to help victims of sexual assault

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These are scary times, no doubt about it. But Mr. Rogers said it best, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Duluth has a superpower: helpers who don’t wear capes and aren’t in the news but are quietly swooping in and transforming the lives of our families, neighbors, coworkers, friends, and children in our community. The police call on them, doctors rely on them, and universities and high schools know they can count on them. You can count on them, too.

Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. PAVSA, or the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, is working to change that. PAVSA’s mission is eliminating sexual violence where we live. We at PAVSA are relentlessly supporting victim-survivors in emergency rooms, in courtrooms, and in therapy rooms. We know that surviving a sexual assault is only the first step in a victim-survivor’s journey to not only healing but to thriving for the rest of their lives. We are committed to standing with them every step of the way.

PAVSA is unique in that it offers completely free therapy by licensed counselors. We don’t believe you should have to pay when a crime is committed against you. Victim-centered care means you have the right to free and accessible care.

I didn’t know how many people sexual assault impacts until I became a sexual assault nurse with PAVSA and started showing up for victim-survivors in emergency rooms. I saw little kids, grandmothers, grandsons, academics, business professionals, and professors.


One thing I learned is that there is no stereotype, and people in every walk of life are being targeted by perpetrators and having the unimaginable happen to them. Oftentimes, people in their lives don’t know. Because the pain of being raped is hard. Telling a spouse, parent, or family member oftentimes is a pain that victim-survivors are reluctant to pass onto the people they love.

That's why PAVSA is my hero.

In the moment they step in to be the person sitting next to you at the hospital, a sexual-assault nurse examiner takes over your care in the emergency room. Our team offers victim-survivors the space to decide what feels like healing for them. Doing a sexual assault exam? Filing charges with the police? Or making sure your body is healthy and going home to sleep? Victim-centered care means it's different for each person. Each person regains control by making decisions for themselves, surrounded by a team of people supporting them.

From hospital advocacy and health care from a specialized RN to assisting with legal issues, therapy, and support groups to sex-trafficking and exploitation services, PAVSA is showing up for the one person in six who are injured by sexual assault. They ensure that the assault isn’t the end of the story, that healing is. Victim-survivors have the right to access everything they need to heal and to go on and thrive across their lifetimes.

That's why PAVSA is my hero. That's why it's Duluth’s superpower.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Will you support PAVSA in the community? Will you talk about it with your friends, family, faith community, and kids? Call and ask a question, for you or a friend, and put our number in your phone. Be a friend by knowing where the help is. We all can support victim-survivors by pointing them to where they can access free and confidential expert care. It's never too late to heal. It's never too late for help.

When I look for the helpers, I see PAVSA.

Diana K. Oestreich of Duluth is a board member for PAVSA, or the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault. She also is a former sexual-assault nurse and a current key relationship officer for Preemptive Love, a global relief organization working to end war.

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