Cody Steussy was in second grade the first time he was raped.
"We were out riding bikes when he asked me to come in and play his new Nintendo," Steussy said. "After we played for a while, he said I had to pay for it. That was the first time he assaulted me."
Go & Do
Light Up the Night
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday; ceremonial sparkler lighting at 8 p.m.
Where: 1120 S. Walton Blvd. in Bentonville
Information: 479-445-6448 or nwarapecrisis.org
For the next four years, Steussy would be repeatedly sexually assaulted by a teenage neighbor, usually when he was out on his bike, he said.
"He would find me alone and pull me into the bushes," he said. "I remember going home afterwards, and I remember cleaning up the blood and Vaseline. I found out later that I wasn't the only one he was doing it to, but I felt like I was his favorite because it happened over and over."
Steussy chose not to tell anyone about the rapes, he said, because he was afraid and ashamed, and even after confiding in his mother, he still refused to press charges against his rapist.
"It was partly because I was afraid, and partly because of who he was," he said. The rapist, said Steussy, was the son of someone important. The young teen feared a possible media circus, he said.
"I kept quiet and didn't say anything," he said. "What 14-year-old boy wants to become that stigma? And I felt dirty and felt guilty, and I thought that it was my fault that it happened. I should have stopped it. ... I started counseling, but I don't know that it really helped. I didn't want to be there at the time. I started cutting. I was depressed."
According to the United States Department of Justice, 18 percent of American men have been sexually assaulted or raped, a statistic often overlooked by the general public and a crime rarely reported, Steussy said.
"Assault takes so many forms," he said. "Men can be assaulted by women. Men can be assaulted by men. Children are assaulted by both. It's a horrible disease that is part of our culture. And men especially don't want to admit that it has happened to them. It makes you wonder how many are trying to deal with this on their own."
Owner of local taxi company Abundant Taxi and director of operations at South Walton Suites in Bentonville, Steussy also serves as vice president of the Board of Directors for the Northwest Arkansas Rape Crisis Center and has been an integral part in setting up the center's new event, Light Up the Night, as part of sexual assault awareness month.
"This is going to be a really, really relaxed event with facts and statistics throughout the night," he said. "We will be featuring the stories of several of us who are survivors. There is raw power in these stories. They bring this issue to the light. It's astonishing how many people come into our center and how many people feel totally alone. You aren't the only person this has happened to."
"You really wouldn't know until you get that initial call or someone walks through the front doors of our center that they are dealing with this kind of trauma," said bilingual advocate and Light Up the Night narrator, Jazmin Roman. "This has been an eye-opener. Just working with survivors -- they have taught me so many things about healing. This event will really highlight that."
"The statistics for rape are so high -- one in three women and one in six men," added Anne Shelley, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center. "You're interacting with people every day who are dealing with sexual assault, whether it just happened last week, or whether it happened 20 or 30 years ago. It's also the type of thing that people aren't comfortable talking about.
"But we're really excited about this event," she continued. "One of the things the Board of Directors was talking about last year was events we could bring to the community regarding this issue and one strictly to celebrate the strength of those who survive. So this is the event that will celebrate that."
The Light Up the Night celebration will feature music provided by members of the Bentonville High School orchestra, a silent auction benefiting the center and cash bar and hors d' oeuvres and end with a sparkler lighting to literally light up the night.
"We will also be including a performance piece," she said. "This will give real voice to survivors and their supporters by providing our own stories as a way to lead up to this celebration of the strength of survivors. The majority of the board and advocates have had this touch their lives personally, so we want to give voice to it through us."
Although the event price was chosen to highlight the one in six men who has survived sexual assault, Friday's event "doesn't focus on just men as survivors," Shelley said. "The event features both men and women survivors. And we also want to provide information about our services at the center."
Northwest Arkansas Rape Crisis Center was founded in 1983 and has offered a safe haven of healing and hope for adult survivors of sexual assault, said Shelley. The center offers comprehensive services in both English and Spanish to anyone who has been impacted by sexual assault "whether a person is raped within 72 hours and escorted by police to the clinic and needing a forensic exam done or whether they are just now dealing with a trauma during their childhood and they need support because they have nowhere else to turn," she added. "We are here to provide those services -- individual advocacy, resources and referrals, support groups and therapeutic services -- and we provide a 24-hour hotline for anyone in need of support and any time."
"The center is a place to start that journey of healing," Steussy said. "You get a new set of clothes, you are surrounded by support. No one is going to judge you."
"It's time we stop teaching our girls how not to be raped and start teaching everyone how not to rape," said Shelley. "It's time to stop hiding this and to start talking about it."
"We need to open the eyes of the community, see how this affects all of us and start raising good men and women. Teach this is wrong," Steussy said.
NAN Life on 04/02/2014