Community members walk to honor survivors of sexual assault

More than 100 people join 360 Communities in chilly candlelit stroll

The fourth annual Sexual Assault Awareness walk is put on by 360 Communities Lewis House in Eagan, which provides support for women and children in violent situations. More than a hundred participants held candles and walked from the Lewis House to a nearby park. (Photo submitted)

The fourth annual Sexual Assault Awareness walk is put on by 360 Communities Lewis House in Eagan, which provides support for women and children in violent situations. More than a hundred participants held candles and walked from the Lewis House to a nearby park. (Photo submitted)

On a chilly, drizzly Wednesday night more than 100 people gathered at the 360 Communities Lewis House in Eagan to take a candlelight stroll and honor all those affected by sexual assault and domestic violence.

More than 100 community members pose in a picture for Oprah outside the 360 Communities Lewis House in Eagan on a brisk evening before setting out on the Sexual Assault Awareness Walk. Oprah donated money to the Lewis House years ago. (Photo by Theresa Malloy)

More than 100 community members pose in a picture for Oprah outside the 360 Communities Lewis House in Eagan on a brisk evening before setting out on the Sexual Assault Awareness Walk. Oprah donated money to the Lewis House years ago. (Photo by Theresa Malloy)

The fourth annual Sexual Assault Awareness Walk was held April 24 as part of sexual assault awareness month. Community members, volunteers, survivors and even military members and new recruits journeyed from the Lewis House to a nearby park with candles and teal ribbons.

all-360-walk-5-3_3“This is an important thing we are doing,” said Sal Mondelli, 360 Communities president and CEO. “I wish we didn’t have to do this … but we do. If we can prevent one, then we can prevent two and then we can prevent four.”

Community members walked to a park near the Eagan Lewis House to show support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Participants warmed their hands with the candles while listening to the speakers on a chilly April evening. (Photo submitted)

Community members walked to a park near the Eagan Lewis House to show support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Participants warmed their hands with the candles while listening to the speakers on a chilly April evening. (Photo submitted)

Eagan police officer Joe Moesley read statistics from the University of Minnesota study on the status of women: one in four women will experience sexual abuse by the age of 23. About 12 percent of 12th-grade students have experienced date assault, and only about 16 percent of sexual assault and domestic violence crimes are reported to police because of a fear of safety, scrutiny, shame and victimization.

Speaker Janine Montgomery shared her story of surviving child abuse and sex trafficking at the Sexual Assault Awareness Event. As a survivor, Montgomery was able to turn her life around, has a family and works as a minister and advocate for victims. (Photo submitted)

Speaker Janine Montgomery shared her story of surviving child abuse and sex trafficking at the Sexual Assault Awareness Event. As a survivor, Montgomery was able to turn her life around, has a family and works as a minister and advocate for victims. (Photo submitted)

The event’s featured speaker Janine Montgomery is a survivor of sexual assault and sex trafficking. She was molested from age 5 until she was 10 by her caregivers. She moved to Minnesota and said, “I blocked it all out.”

The emotional scars stayed with her.

“I hated myself,” she said.

In middle school a friend preyed on her insecurities, and she eventually was involved in sex trafficking in Edina. She would attend sex parties where victimization could happen three to four times a week.

“I became hooked on alcohol and drugs,” she said. “It got to a point where I gladly took them,” grateful to erase the pain.

Montgomery lived this double life and found a way out of sex trafficking by dealing drugs. She suffered from anorexia, bulimia and cut herself to ease the pain.

“I was so tormented and traumatized, I couldn’t say what had happened,” she said.

She entered an abusive marriage and finally ended that marriage and sought healing.

Now Montgomery has remarried and has a healthy family. As a minister and speaker, Montgomery said her goal is to bring awareness and educate that this happens in suburban communities.

She said people should watch for signs of sex trafficking or abuse such as unexplained burns, bites, cuts and bruises, especially in students who have missed school a lot. She said victims could experience difficulty walking or sitting, nightmares and bed-wetting, exhibit bizarre sexual behavior, have emotional and aggressive behavior and have urinary tract infections.

A Community Caring Award was also presented to Kelly Nicholson, a victim witness program supervisor for the Dakota County Attorney’s Office.

The Lewis House has a location in Hastings and Eagan. Both offer support for women and children experiencing sexual assault and domestic violence.

For more information, visit 360communities.org, call the Eagan Lewis House 651-452-7288 or Hastings Lewis House 651-437-1291.

Montgomery can be reached at facebook.com/janinemontgomerysurvivor.

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