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From Surviving to Thriving: A Story of a Sexual Abuse Survivor 

In the US, 1 out of every 6 women and 1 out of 33 men would have experienced sexual assault at least once in their lifetime. Sexual violence is unfortunately pervasive in our society and domestic violence survivors are no exception.

For Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), DASH would like to highlight the story of Victoria*.  

Victoria came to the U.S. with her longtime partner and two young children. Once they came to the U.S., her partner started becoming emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive. She fled her home with her two young children and began couch surfing with the friends and family she had in the U.S.

Victoria was able to connect with DASH and transitioned to her own apartment in the Empowerment Project.  

With safe housing secured for her and her family, she quickly obtained a job with the support of her DASH Coach. Her work ethic and persistence enabled her to become more successful in the program. However, it was difficult for Victoria to switch from “surviving mode” to “thriving mode.” Her coach reminded her that it is okay to feel and experience these emotions and to not always have it all together. Addressing the emotions surrounding the abuse on her own terms is the first step towards healing from the trauma of the assault. 

Victoria has been catapulted into a new career in the travel industry. She is excited and nervous to leave DASH. Victoria’s story of overcoming sexual abuse and rebuilding her life is a testament to her strength and resilience. She can now successfully provide for her family in a safe home. 

DASH recognizes how hard it is to leave a sexually abusive relationship, especially if you have children. One of our coaches, Bruce, gives the following advice for survivors of sexual assault: “You didn’t make a bad choice in choosing yourself. Continue to choose you.” 

To learn more about Sexual Assault Awareness Month, you can visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center or RAINN. These websites offer data on sexual violence, national and local resources for survivors, and ways to get involved in activism.  

*Name changed to protect privacy

The Power of #SurvivorLoveLetters

Note: This is the first post in a new blog series by DASH called ‘Domestic Violence Matters’, which discusses current events and media coverage of domestic and sexual violence. We believe that empowering, provocative, and original media and storytelling must play a critical role in helping to overcome domestic violence in our society.

A new campaign, #SurvivorLoveLetter, displays love letters to survivors of sexual assault. The campaign was originally organized as an exercise of healing for survivors,  it has spread quickly and widened in scope. Now, family members, friends and even strangers are contributing their love letters to show their support of survivors of sexual violence. In her recent Huffington Post piece, Tani Ikeda, the organizer of the campaign, described it as the start of movement, “Survivor Love Letter enables us to talk about what survivorship really looks like. Through this growing collection of love letters, maybe we can build strategies for the ways we heal ourselves and our communities. I hope sharing our real stories makes other people feel that there is no one right way to heal.”

“I hope sharing our real stories makes other people feel that there is no one right way to heal.” – Tani Ikeda

We love this campaign. The dialogue surrounding sexual and domestic violence is too often clouded by judgement and fear or controlled by outsiders. This campaign not only magnifies the voices of actual survivors, it also sends a message of hope, love and healing. Using Tumblr as the platform for the campaign allows survivors to speak out on their terms, preserving safety and anonymity. They get to control the narrative – with no journalists or marketing professionals inserting their own, however well intentioned, agendas.

Sexual assault is immensely sad, as well as mind numbing, infuriating and sickening. But there is hope for healing, healing that can only happen on the terms of the survivors.

Below some letters that spoke to us – but there are hundreds more at http://survivorloveletter.tumblr.com.



DASH is an innovator in providing access to safe housing and services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families as they rebuild their lives on their own terms.

Supporter Spotlight: Meghan Walsh

We’re lucky at DASH to have the support of a number of people we work with, including Meghan – author of the blog below, local architect and DASH champion. Here’s what our Executive Director Peg Hacskaylo had to say about Meghan:

“Since the earliest days of DASH, I have considered my relationship with Meghan to be incredibly valuable and rewarding.  I learned so much from her in the beginning, working on the plans and renovation for DASH; and since, working together on various other construction and art projects.  Meghan has been a tireless and passionate supporter of ours. I couldn’t have asked for a better ally in making DASH a reality and helping to achieve our mission.”

Read more about Meghan’s experience with DASH!


photoI started working with Peg on DASH  in 2008 I believe. She called me for help in renovating a 5 bedroom rowhouse – her earliest vision of DASH.  As Peg’s vision evolved and she found support, that small project grew.  I didn’t hear from Peg for a while after our first conversation.  But then one day she called to request my help on a 27-unit building in Southeast Washington.  She, and I , were very excited about it.  I prepared an extensive feasibility study for the abandoned low rise apartment building, but the building was sold out from under DASH and Peg was back to square one… looking for a home for DASH.   Again, a hiatus in my working on DASH, until one day when she called to tell me that now, it was looking very positive and this time the building was 51 units.   I was thrilled for Peg and for the opportunity to work with her on her vision which had grown ten times since our first conversation.

The DASH building was a very challenging renovation project because of its extremely solid construction, and the constraints of budget.  Working with Peg and the team at DASH was a wonderful way for me to gain insight into what DASH does on a daily basis. Understanding issues of security, community, and safety were key as the project developed.  Working on a building as the architect, you spent lots of time together with the team at the building during its construction with weekly and sometimes bi-weekly visits.  At the end of this process there is a bittersweet feeling of happiness at the completion, yet loss because of the relationships that were developed for that moment in time.  I think Peg understands this as do all of the staff at DASH, for everything is in transition at DASH, all of the time.

photo_1By the end of the project, Peg knew me not only as architect, but she also learned that I have a fine arts background and I have done some public art and community projects, both in DC and in Brazil, through Axis Mundi, Inc., a non-profit that I founded in 2004.  When the Redskins alumni joined with KaBoom to build the playground in the front yard, she asked me if I could create a project to involve younger folks who live at DASH.  Peg had visited my home in Bloomingdale and seen the mosaics I made and incorporated into the design of my house. We had spoken about bringing some of this to DASH and this was the chance. Axis Mundi contributed materials to the project and we started to make the mosaic panels for DASH on the day of the Redskins playground build.

The mosaics that I like to make are broken tile mosaics.  I particularly enjoy this process because it feels healing to me. When we see a piece of broken tile by itself, our tendency is to consider it garbage.  When we break a plate or cup, we throw it away usually.  But when I begin to put them into a mosaic, I see that each broken piece has its distinct place amongst the other broken pieces. In life, I have had my failures and experiences that have hurt me, or that I might not like.  I tend see these experiences as unworthy, unimportant or ugly and want to throw them away, just like a broken plate.  And yet in combining these “failures” into a complete mosaic – my whole life – it is something spectacularly beautiful and incredibly unique… there will never be another exactly the same.  The act of laying each piece into place may seem monotonous or tedious to some.  But I find it soothing, and healing.  And I am always amazed at the end result.  While I plan out the overall image – a flower, a spiral, a beach scene, or just a field of a particular color, there is a joyful spontaneity and randomness to the placement of each individual piece.  It requires patience, some discipline, and time, but it is an enjoyable process with an always surprisingly beautiful end result. It is also a fun thing to do socially.  The day we made them at DASH I had some great conversations with all those volunteering.  And since then, I have spent time with my friends completing them and we too have had the opportunity to work on something constructive, while have long talks about life, joking and laughing together through the messy process of creating something beautiful.

Today, when I visited DASH to drop of the mosaic panels, I had a few flashbacks to the many stages of the building, from the run down apartment building it was prior to DASH, to the challenges that came up through the middle of construction process to the moment of completion, and move-in.  I don’t have a day-to-day role at DASH anymore, and it makes me happy to be asked for an ID when I come through the door anonymously.  It is a feeling that is hard to describe.  Kind of like being a broken piece of tile that found its spot in a beautiful mosaic flower. Thank you DASH for letting me be a part of you too!

DASH Featured on Channel 9 News

Note: Some content may be triggering due to graphic descriptions.

Last night, DASH was featured in a lead story on Local Channel 9 news (CBS) about safe housing for survivors of domestic violence, a story that was prompted by the murder on Tuesday in Kensington, MD of Heather Lynn McGuire by her estranged husband, who then committed suicide.

Journalist Gary Nurenberg interviewed DASH Executive Director Peg Hacskaylo, as well as three residents of DASH’s Cornerstone Program, to learn more about safe shelter and how victims of domestic and sexual violence can escape abuse to establish safe, independent lives.  The story, which also included footage of the safe housing apartments DASH provides its residents at Cornerstone, was the centerpiece of the feature, which also highlighted the story of the tragic murder/suicide, an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw, and an interview with Yvette McCade, a local survivor of an attempted murder by her estranged husband.

Click here to view the broadcast and read the accompanying story, click here: WUSA 9 DASH Story

If you would like to learn more about DASH and support the work we do to help women and children in our community, our 2nd annual DASH Allies in Change Luncheon is March 28 (2012) at 12:00pm at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. The lunch is open to the public and tickets can be purchased here: Allies in Change. You can also visit www.dashdc.org for more information or to make a secure donation online.

DASH extends its gratitude to WUSA Channel 9 and Gary Nurenberg for its attention to and coverage of this important issue and the work that DASH does to help survivors and their families.

Reports of DC Rate Rape Increase Highest in the Nation

Last week, the FBI released crime statistics for each state. While DC’s rate for homicide and violent crime on the whole decreased, the rate of forcible rape increased, up to 187 from 2009’s 150. This 24.7% increase is the highest of any state (cities are not documented), with the second highest increase being an 8.9% rise in Nebraska. As a whole, the nation’s forcible rape rate went down 5% last year.

Clearly, these numbers point to the urgent need in our community to address sexual assault. In 2010, the District Alliance for Safe Housing decided to add sexual assault survivors to those for whom it provided service. Domestic violence and sexual assault are often interrelated. Many survivors are assaulted within intimate partner relationships. Additionally, many of those who survive a sexual assault also face the potential for homelessness, especially if the assault occurred in the survivor’s home or the assailant learns the victims’ address.  In these situations, it is imperative for victims to have safe housing, much like those escaping domestic violence.

DASH’s housing and services provide critical space and support for survivors of sexual violence to recover from the trauma of victimization and rebuild their lives on their own terms.  While the path to healing may look somewhat different from domestic violence, the need for access to safe, affordable housing is a reality for survivors across the spectrum – whether recovering from domestic abuse, sexual assault, trafficking, stalking, or other threat.  Providing housing access to sexual assault survivors in our constituent base is yet another way in which DASH aims to be agile, responsive, and innovative in serving those impacted by violence.

Survivors of sexual assault in the District can also access these resources for support.

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