How this marketing firm owner healed from sexual abuse and is taking steps to help others

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Photo by Paul Nolasco

Crystal Emerick knows hope, recovery, and healing are possible for adults who have been victimized by sexual abuse. She has firsthand experience.

And that’s what led the founder and owner of PR and marketing firm ASPIRE Communications, to launch Brave Step, a Charlotte-based nonprofit that works with adult victims of sexual trauma, regardless of when the abuse took place.

SouthPark Magazine spoke with her about the pervasiveness of sexual abuse, the #MeToo movement, and how support is key to recovery and healing. Lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

What is Brave Step and how do you operate?

Brave Step is a nonprofit that strengthens adults impacted by sexual abuse through inspiration, education, and personalized care. We identify quality trauma therapists and provide customized options to begin the healing process. We focus on anyone impacted by sexual abuse—a survivor, non-offending parent, sibling, spouse, etc.— over the age of 18, regardless of when the abuse took place.

Our model presents services to the survivor and those impacted, according to their comfort level. Options include individual counseling, group therapy, empowerment programs, peer-led support groups, and ways to find one’s voice.

What led you to establish Brave Step?

I grew up in eastern North Carolina on a farm and had every expectation of having a normal childhood. My sexual abuse story began at the expense of a close family member when I was 3 years old. The confusion it causes when you look up to someone who does something inexplicable is so difficult as a child. I developed a keen sense of guilt and shame, feeling dirty and ultimately lost.

I struggled with anorexia, had suicidal thoughts and issues with shame, guilt, trust, and authority. When I moved to Charlotte in 2002, I knew something needed to change. A therapist who specializes in sexual abuse helped me. As I healed, my next mission in life became clear: to help adult survivors find help.

How widespread is the problem?

Sexual abuse and assault is a pervasive community-wide and global issue. One in four women and one in six men are sexually abused by the age of 18. That’s 42 million adults in the U.S. who are survivors. As a survivor, you often feel fear, shame, guilt, loss of control, unsure of where or who to turn to, anger, and more. Many survivors find other outlets to manage the pain such as cutting, eating disorders, and unhealthy sexual relationships.

How has the #MeToo movement impacted your efforts?

I think one thing missing from the national narrative surrounding the headlines of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment is a path forward that places healing front and center.

How can the momentum from #MeToo be harnessed?

First, let’s shift our focus from #MeToo to #BraveHealing to signify a focus on healing and finding freedom from abuse. Next, have brave discussions with children about the importance of good touches and bad touches. Stop It Now, a long-standing voice on sexual abuse, has several great resources at www.stopitnow.org to help with these conversations. Finally, support resources need funding. Funds for trauma-informed care for adults, education programs, and research are critical.

What do you want sexual abuse victims to know?

They are not alone and quality care including therapy, if appropriate, is vital to recovery. Take a brave step today. bravestep.org.

This story first appeared in the June 2018 issue of SouthPark Magazine.

Photo by Paul Nolasco

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