Sondra Miller has a soft spot for the underdog, which is why she works every day to help victims of sexual violence find a way forward in their lives.
“What we’ve known long before there was a hashtag for the #MeToo movement is that sexual violence is the most underreported crime in our nation at astonishing levels,” says Miller, president and CEO of Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
“We are very tuned in to the fact that a lot of people — women and children in particular — have been harmed, but have stayed silent about it. We are the agency that usually hears those stories and we are not at all surprised by the number of people now coming forward.”
One in five women will be raped at some point in their lives, according to statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. At the same time, the agency found that 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.
“We are always working incredibly hard to break down the stigma associated with sexual violence so that survivors can come forward and ask for help,” Miller says. “We are having an unprecedented number of conversations about sexual violence. Not all of them end in the way I would choose for them to end, but the fact that we’re talking about it, every time we do, we’re reducing the stigma a little bit. I can only see that as progress.”
CRCC has grown over the past decade from one location to four, and from serving just Cuyahoga County to also supporting Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties. The nonprofit has expanded from 16 to 66 employees and its annual budget has increased from $1.5 million to $5.5 million.
In addition to helping victims of sexual violence survivors, Miller and her team are committed to using education to try to prevent future incidents from occurring.
“We have a team of people who go into schools or community organizations every day and take part in community collaboration meetings to initiate this kind of dialogue,” Miller says. “It’s giving parents tips about how to talk to children and talking to teenagers about what rape and sexual abuse looks like. It might not look in real life like what you see on TV.”
Miller is confident that better days are ahead.
“We have regular interaction with the generation that I believe will be responsible for reducing sexual violence,” she says. ●