"It's not your fault."
It took more than 40 years for someone to tell Connie Sauls that she was not to blame for the four years of sexual abuse she endured as a child, or years of subsequent emotional and mental abuse.
When she finally heard those words at Hope Haven of the Lowcountry, she said it was as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
"I know -- oh, how I know -- how it feels to walk around every single day, living and breathing with this inside you," she said. "And it just breaks my heart to know there are others walking around with that."
Sauls is one of 473 victims of sexual assault and child abuse who sought help from Hope Haven in 2012. Before then, she never told anyone what happened.
That number of victims doesn't include those who survived without seeking help, or those who are still being victimized, the organization says. Sauls understands why some don't come forward.
"I thought, 'Oh no, you don't talk about this stuff,' " Sauls said. " 'You keep this stuff under the rug.' "
To honor the survivors and increase awareness about sexual assault and child abuse, Hope Haven is sponsoring the 2013 Take Back the Night at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort. Sauls will be one of the speakers.
"I want to tell people you can overcome this," she said. "You can have peace. You might never forget it, but you can find peace, and you can move on."
The event will feature speakers young and old, including survivors, slam poets and performers. The Technical College of the Lowcountry's gospel choir will sing, and youth members of Hope Haven's prevention program will read monologues and from books, said Leigh-Ann Shoupe, director of prevention and outreach services.
"We really want to get the community involved and get people who don't really know about Hope Haven," she said.
The night culminates with the lighting of 473 luminarias, one for each survivor helped by Hope Haven last year.
Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy called these violent crimes intolerable and said anyone who commits them should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Take Back the Night is one way to help support victims, he said.
"It is troubling that so many of these crimes are not reported, so they can be investigated and offenders brought to justice," he said. "Events like this that raise awareness and let victims know that there is support -- hopefully, this will help remove the fear of reporting these heinous crimes to law enforcement."
Anne, who asked that her real name not be used, was a mother of two young boys before she sought professional help for abuse she suffered as a child. She wanted to make sure she was healed and wouldn't continue the cycle.
During Take Back the Night, she'll read a poem she wrote.
It says: "Sometimes, it's easier if you know someone else has hurt, too, sometimes it makes the loneliness a little easier."
- Take Back the Night to raise awareness of abuse, sexual violence, April 1, 2013
- Young men learn how to prevent violence against women in Men of Strength Club, Feb. 25, 2013
- PHOTO: TCL in Beaufort hosts event to end violence against women, Feb. 14, 2013
- Hope Haven of the Lowcountry