WATCH ABOVE: A young woman from Saint John is working to empower victims of sexual assault by telling her story. Global’s Laura Brown looks at Project Roar.
SAINT JOHN – A young Saint John woman is working to empower victims of sexual assault by telling her story.
Jessica Lanigan says she wants to share her experience in the hopes it will help others.
“I was sexual abused for essentially the majority of my childhood by a male family friend and I kept it quiet for seventeen years,” she said.
But now, no one is keeping Lanigan from talking. She calls it “Project Roar,” a non-profit organization started when Lanigan was listening to Katy Perry’s song “Roar.”
She realized it wasn’t right to keep her abuse silent for the sake of others.
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“The traditional way of thinking, of sweeping it under the rug, of being ashamed, of being quiet, has kind of contributed to our reality of today,” she said.
“So we need to get rid of the rug, as I always say. I want to burn that stupid rug and start talking about it, acknowledging this issue as the big epidemic that it is.”
Lanigan has spoken at every middle school in Saint John. She’s starting a support group this fall for parents of victims or victims themselves.
Her courage is already making a difference.
“There was a youth, after I did a middle school presentation, they went and reported to the police that they were currently being sexually abused,” she said.
“That to me was a huge motivator that, okay, I am actually making a difference by sharing my story.”
Saint John has had several high profile sexual assault cases involving children. Donnie Snook, a former Saint John city councillor and youth ministry director, was sentenced in 2013 to 18 years for sex crimes against 18 boys.
But Lanigan says it’s difficult to tell how bad it is because so many cases are going unreported. She wants to educate about the signs and empower victims to tell their stories, encouraging them to report an assault.
And that’s why Lanigan’s project is so important, says Saint John Cst. Jocelyn McIntyre.
“It’s effective, because it has brought cases forward to the Saint John Police Force and we are a partner with Project Roar,” she said. “It’s allowing children, who may not have had the opportunity before, to have the opportunity now to speak about their experience.”
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That’s why Lanigan shares her story, and why she reported her own sexual abuse to the police last year.
But now she’s already focused on the future.
“I remember in school being told, ‘don’t take candy from a creepy man in a van, be scared of people you don’t know because they’re going to kidnap you,’” she said.
“But I was terrified of someone I knew my entire life. But I was taught I shouldn’t be scared of him because I know who is. So we need to move beyond stranger danger and add to it.”