Sexual assault survivors speak about how they are coping amid daily allegations

Sexual assault in the U.S. is epidemic. It happens, on average, every 98 seconds. Most attackers are not well known. But often, they are known to their victims.

CBS News’ Jericka Duncan spoke to survivors at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.

Duncan started by asking how many of the panelists were sexually assaulted by someone they knew and trusted. All of the survivors raised their hands.

“What happened?” she asked.

“My first experience of being sexually violated goes back to the age of five,” Donna Black, 53, said.

In one incident, Black said she was in a chiropractor office for a massage in one of her encounters.

“Next thing I knew, his hands went down my pants into my panties … I laid there, I was in shock … I questioned if I was experiencing this.”

“I was abused by a man who lived in my neighborhood,” said Kevin Sweeney, 60.

Sweeney said he was between the ages of 8 and 13 when he was abused by a man he said was well regarded in the community.

“From the age of 8 to 13 … then I was quiet from 13 to 46,” Sweeney said. He spoke out after “hearing about his death brought back a lot of memories and I began to face a lot of the things I had not faced in those years.”

“I was molested by my mother’s boyfriend,” said Imani Capri, 39. She said it happened when she was about 10 years old and was inappropriately touched. Capri told her mother, she confronted him and he said he wouldn’t touch Capri again.

“In fact he did, and he and my mother eventually got married,” Capri said. “Things escalatedfrom an inappropriate touch to full rape by the time I was 12 years old. By 24 I had a nervous breakdown from repressing everything.” 

Eventually, she pursued in legal charges against her mother’s husband, which resulted in two trials. The first resulted in a hung jury, but he was convicted at the second trial. He is serving a 20 to 24 year term. 


Imani Capri says she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. 

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“I was abused by a family member,” said Teresa Stafford, 41.

Stafford said it began when she was 8 years old during a time when her mother was dealing with a rare form of cancer.

“The person who was abusing me used that as an opportunity to increase the abuse,” Stafford told CBS News. “Basically, saying, it will kill her,” she added. “So I never told because the person who abused me was like the star in our family … he was the football player … he was who everybody looked up to … he was my oldest brother.”

“I was raped by a coworker at my old job … he was 38 and I was 18,” said Mikayla Colston, now 19. “He tried to make a move on me, and I said I don’t want to have sex … he kept trying to take my clothes off. I kept telling him to stop and it turned into me screaming and nobody could hear me. And then, later I tried to talk to him about it, and he started making very vague threats and yelling at me. It got to the point where I was afarid of him, and he proceeded to rape me three more times.”

“I was sexually assaulted five and a half years ago by a coworker of my husband in my home,” said Janette Fleissner, 45. “I didn’t know him, but my husband obviously did. I was critically injured: I suffered a broken neck, I suffered a ruptured ovary. I spend two days in extensive care. I’m from a small community, and the police department just buried it.”


 Jackie Pfadt says she is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape. 

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“I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape … it started around when I was 7 years old just short of my 13th birthday,” said Jackie Pfadt, 37. “It was from an older boy who lived in the area. It started off probably as touching and evolved into all forms of rape — oral, vaginal and anal. When I was 16 and a half, I was initimate with a boyfriend and everythingcame flooding back, in nightmares and flashbacks — and I was self-destructing.”

“I share my story to try and help other people walk through this darkness because it was horrible,” Pfadt said.

Duncan asked if they believed there are more male victims of sexual abuse and rape than previously reported.


Kevin Sweeney said he believes it is “very hard” for men to come foward.

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Sweeney said he believes so. “I think it’s very hard for men to come forward and say something — it chips away from your masculinity,” Sweeney said. “I felt like I was damaged goods.”

The rest of the panel shook their heads in agreement with the feeling that they were “damaged goods.”

“I feel like the biggest lesson that I had to learn was that the real victory was me breaking the silence,” Capri said. “There are changes that are starting to happen in society, especially with all the major news events that’s coming out and I think it’s great there’s so much attention. But I think there is still a culture of victim blaming.”

“The way people are responding to the celebrities and people who have a name,” Stafford said. “I really wish society would respond to everyday people in the same way. It’s like we create a hierarchy for survivors in our society that if you look a certain way come from a certain background you get that attention.”


Donna Black said her first experience with sexual abuse goes back to when she was 5 years old.

CBS News

“None of us are like TV personalities, so that’s a beautiful thing — let people know you don’t have to be rich, you know, you don’t have to be in the spotlight. Violation is violation and rape is rape,” Black said.

“Sexual assault and abuse and rape is really about the power not the sex,” Capri said. “To see that being exposed on such a huge level and such a consistent level brings me joy because it feels like OK, now we can get real. Now we can really have conversations, now we can stop having all these whispers and making it be about the person who’s rate is damaged goods. Now how about the person who did the raping has a problem.”

Unfortunately finding these people wasn’t difficult. We partnered with The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. Last year, more than 36,000 people relied on their services.

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