In this episode, we meet Crystal Emerick, the founder and Executive Director of Brave Step, a non-profit that focuses on supporting those affected by sexual violence; survivors or loved ones. This 5-year old non-profit strives to empower adults impacted by sexual violence in 3 ways; personalized care(individual counseling, group therapy, peer support groups, empowerment groups), Brave public conversations, and to cultivate Changemakers. Once a survivor or loved one reaches out, their case manager completes a thorough intake and then lays out the options. The options they currently offer are individual counseling with a highly vetted therapist and will provide financial assistance if needed for up to 26 sessions, 12-week group therapy led by a licensed therapist, peer-led support groups, empowerment groups focused on coping skills, or “Finding Your Voice” programs including storytelling, art classes, etc. They meet the survivor or loved one where they are in their healing journey. Crystal has put together a diverse group on her Advisory Board who are all trained in various trauma treatment modalities so that Brave Step can offer a combination as well as have the understanding of all offered.
“Sexual violence doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t care what faith you are, what financial status you are, what color you are, or what culture you are. It welcomes everybody with open arms. Until we can truly embrace that and the fact that each of us is impacted in one way or another, I don’t know how we convince people of how detrimental this is to our community.”
Crystal shares her own story of surviving childhood sexual abuse. She recognized the guilt, shame, and blame that was growing inside her and told her mom about it at the age of 13. As she grew older, she turned towards what she could control which manifested into unhealthy behavioral patterns. When she moved to Charlotte in 2001, she asked her doctor for help and was referred to a therapist, Sue Anne Wrenn. During her work with her therapist, she realized that she could not turn away from how prevalent sexual assault was in the world and in 2011 was challenged to “do something about it.” She spent a good 2 years trying to figure out her role in doing something about it. In November of 2014, Brave Step officially became a non-profit and she started assembling her Advisory Board and Board of Directors. She recognized that there was not a lot of representation of adult care of sexual violence survivors. When she started the non-profit, she was running her own business in communications and public relations. She kept feeling the tug to give her all to the non-profit, so 2 years ago she closed down her business and moved over full-time. Last year, 60% of their funding came from individual donors and they continuously apply for grants. She would like to create in the future more specific programming for the loved ones of survivors but in the meantime, they can access services through Brave Step.
She has been influenced by Nancy Brinker’s book, “Promise Me.” As the founder of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, this book provided Crystal inspiration for changing people’s tolerance for talking about the difficult topics such as breast cancer and sexual violence. She wants to heal Charlotte to help those survivors either crack open or bust down the door to their healing because she understands the negative impacts on survivors, family members, communities. She wants to do this work to help future generations. Her advice for sexual violence survivors is as follows; take 1 brave baby step at a time, fight for yourself, and find community with people like you. She is inspired in Charlotte by Sue Anne Wrenn, a therapist and all of the members of her Advisory Board.
“It’s my obligation now. It’s to turn my pain into a purpose and as long as I can keep doing that and do it effectively, then I’m here to stay.”
In the short term future, Brave Step will be releasing the “Change Makers” program this year that will focus on education around sexual assault and will be diving deeper on supporting loved ones.
Visit Brave Step‘s website for more information or to get help, donate, or volunteer. You can reach Crystal directly at email@example.com or 704-361-5230.