Abuse survivors finally speaking out
BRADENTON -- Quietly but with steely resolve, Ken Followell told a crowd of strangers about a secret he's been living with for more than 40 years.

An uncle sexually abused Followell when he was 2. Scared and confused, he never told anyone about the abuse. Until now.

"Kids keep getting abused because they think they're the only ones, and I'm committed to have kids talk about it and have it stopped," Followell, 47, said. "It's not easy for men or women to speak out, but for men, it has a whole host of issues that keep our mouths shut."

Followell was one of several sexual abuse survivors who told their story Thursday at a rally held at the Bradenton City Centre in observance of National Sexual Assault Awareness Day. The rally, sponsored by Manatee Glens Rape Crisis Program, was one of dozens held across the country.

"It's a day to think about prevention of sexual assault and to provide support to survivors of sexual assault," Linda Herbert, Manatee Glens rape crisis supervisor, said. "It's our chance to educate the public about the problem of sexual assault in our community."

Herbert said only 37 percent of all rapes are reported to the police, and one in six boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 16.

Survivor Ann Wells, 44, walked around handing out fluorescent pink buttons that said, "TOO" because, she said, "sexual assault happens too often to too many people." Handing out the buttons, Wells said, often leads to a conversation with others about rape and survival.

"Sometimes it takes a long time before you speak out. You have to be ready, but finally when you get tired of the silence, secrets and hiding, you feel ready to come out," Wells said.

She attends a support group for sexual abuse survivors at Manatee Glens that she finds very helpful. That's how she became one of the speakers at Thursday's rally.

"The whole process of speaking out probably began when I was about 37 years old," Wells said. She said she is compelled to do it, no matter how hard it is, because the pain is too great to remain silent.

For more information on how to volunteer at Sexual Assault Awareness Month events or for information on rape prevention education trainings, call Linda Herbert at 782-4100.

Last modified: April 07. 2006 4:30AM

Ken Followell

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