Sexual violence is widely underreported, but a young woman decides to seek help


The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported in the United States between 1992 and 2000. But how can victims and survivors receive help if they do not report their abuse?

Out of all the statistics, Joe-Ann Mathias, a sexual assault survivor, defeated the odds.

The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (The Alliance) launched Project Dream-Own-Tell (DOT), in an effort to use education to prevent sexual violence.

“When I found out they were having this program, I joined and started learning things that I didn’t know about– and thought the school would teach me, but they didn’t. Because of Project DOT, I learned that if something isn’t OK —speak your truth” said Mathias.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Adolescents are more likely to experience sexually violent crimes than any other age group.” This is higher for LGBTQ, black and Latinx minority youth.

“The Alliance continues to help survivors and prevent sexual violence by trying to break down some of the barriers. We provide access to survivors so that they feel comfortable to report their assault– so that they feel comfortable to seek counseling services if that’s what they choose to do,” says Ashleigh Andersen, direct service coordinator at The Alliance.

DOT’s 13-week program focuses on understanding consent and healthy relationships. The program ends with a social media campaign and teenagers ultimately engaging in their communities.

“We also talk about being an active bystander; So, recognizing that something is a problem and thinking, ‘What can I do?’, but, ultimately remembering that you never intervene unless you know that you’ll be safe,” said Christina Ortiz, senior prevention coordinator at The Alliance.

Mathias has not only received help at Project DOT but has also become a peer educator at The Alliance. The goal is for teenagers 13 through 20 to strengthen their skills as leaders in their communities.

“I was also in this program with a couple of my friends, so we actually started using the language and practicing the things that Project DOT taught us in our real life. This really helped us with our relationships and friendships. But, now, being on the other side of the table, helping co-facilitate and teaching others what I know warms my heart,” said Mathias.

Moreover, she says one of the things she learned at DOT is that asking for consent — not only for sex — is extremely important. She also mentions three tips for having healthy relationships: asking questions, being yourself and not overpowering.

Although The Alliance has had major accomplishments, capacity has been a major challenge.

“We’re a very small agency. I’m the only person where 100 percent of my day is spent directly dealing with survivors. We would love to have the ability to reach so many more people, and we’re growing very quickly,” said Andersen.

When involved in any type of sexual-violence situation, Mathias urges others to reach for help.

“The advice I can give is to find someone that you trust enough or a safe space you can go to, to release a lot of the feelings that you’re holding in. I think that’s the best thing that I learned and I can only speak for experience,” said Mathias.

Maria Serrano is a reporter in the Caplin News’s New York City Bureau.