Along with his 11-year-old daughter Lauren, Simpson was among the first to enter the Jacksonville City Square on Saturday after walking 5 1/2 miles in the Journey for Hope, a local movement sponsored by 2nd Chance — an Anniston-based resource for victims of domestic and sexual violence — to observe national Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
Simpson was among 56 people who began at Heroes Bar & Grille in Weaver and walked along Alabama 21 to symbolize the journey victims of sexual violence take to heal.
“There’s a starting point, and we hope for survivors, there’s an ending point in their recovery, where they come out the other side,” said Susan Shipman, executive director of 2nd Chance. “It’s not something you can just get over; it takes time.”
Once the walkers had reached the end of their journey, they gathered in the square for a brief program, including a reading of Eve Ensler’s poem “I have 35 minutes before he comes looking for me” — written from the perspective of a victim of human trafficking.
Trace Fleming-Smith, an advocate with 2nd Chance, thanked the gathered walkers for participating in the event aimed at creating a visible reminder in the community of a difficult and painful process.
“We tell people all the time that sexual assault isn’t something you just get over, you get through it,” she said. “The thing is, we know we get through it better when we’re surrounded by people who support us and support the community.”
Lauren said that as she walked from Weaver with her dad, carrying signs to call attention to their cause, drivers on Alabama 21 honked and waved in support.
Raising awareness with events such as this is important, her dad said. “I think it affects more people than we realize,” he added.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, someone is sexually abused in the United States every two minutes and each year, more than 207,000 people are sexually assaulted. Of those victims, 80 percent are under the age of 30, with 44 percent under 18. Many of these assaults — 54 percent, according to RAINN — are not reported to police.
To close the event, Fleming-Smith and her daughter Ella released a group of 20 balloons, one for every person who has contacted 2nd Chance for sexual assault services since the beginning of the year, including exams, crisis calls or just coming in to talk.
2nd Chance hosted an event on Valentine’s Day as part of the global One Billion Rising event to end violence against women, part of a movement that grew out of a United Nations statistic that one in three women and girls will experience some form of violence in her lifetime.
“This is to continue with the momentum that was begun on that day, to keep everybody aware that the movement against violence against women is just that — it’s not a day; it’s ongoing.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.