Sexual assault survivor speaks out to raise awareness

Nearly 30 years after being sexually assaulted, Penny Ramos-Bennett has been able to overcome her fear and shame.

The 49-year-old now proudly calls herself a “survivor.” When rape happens, survival is the priority, she said.

“I found myself in a situation where I could not free myself. I wanted to get out alive,” Ramos-Bennett, a Clark County School District spokeswoman, said last week. “That is what you are thinking. I wanted to be on the other side.”

Ramos-Bennett was sexually assaulted in the mid-1980s when she went on a date with a guy as a first-time community college student in Southern California. She didn’t report it to police. It wasn’t until a year later, after she attended an orientation at a four-year college and heard officials talk about the topic, that she decided to seek help.

She said she has healed now and is helping to spread awareness to women and men in similar situations and to encourage them to seek help.

A piece of art created by Ramos-Bennett will be among several denim art pieces to be auctioned off today during the Rape Crisis Center’s Denim Day event. The event, which encourages the community to wear denim to show solidarity with victims of sexual violence, will take place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the first-floor lobby of Las Vegas City Hall.

A donation of $20 before the event or at the door is suggested.

This is the fifth year the Rape Crisis Center has been involved in recognizing Denim Day, but this is the first year an auction will be held, said Daniele Dreitzer, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center.

“It’s really about raising awareness and spreading the message that there are services available,” saidDreitzer, adding it’s never too late for a victim of sexual assault to come forward.

The Rape Crisis Center has aided victims who were sexually assaulted 20 or 30 years ago and who never told anybody, Dreitzer said. The center offers a range of services to victims, including those recently assaulted and those who were assaulted years ago. The center’s services include one-on-one counseling and support group services.

The center also offers services in Spanish, which have been in strong demand, Dreitzer said. Last year, the Rape Crisis Center helped about 600 victims at the hospital and about 3,000 callers to its hotline.

“It’s been pretty steady,” she said of the number of victims seeking assistance from the center.

However, she said not all victims report their sexual assault or get help. It’s not and easy thing to do, something Ramos-Bennett knows.

“I experienced a sense of guilt,” Ramos-Bennett said. “I thought I had put myself in that situation.”

And society still sees it as “taboo” to talk about rape, said Ramos-Bennett.

“I think sometimes people don’t know what to say,” she said. “People don’t typically say, ‘I’m a survivor.’”

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.