Winthrop Advocate Dedicates Life to Supporting Sexual Assault Survivors

WINTHROP, Maine (WABI) - Wednesday night, we told you about a Waterville woman who was brutally attacked two years ago.

Linda Alderson's sexual assault story is just one of thousands in the State of Maine.

For many survivors, it starts with a conversation, a shared connection with a total stranger, that can lead to newfound strength.

It's that potential for hope that motivates Donna Strickler of the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center every day when she walks into work.

"I never imagined that, by becoming a volunteer, this would become my life's work."

Donna Strickler has served as Executive Director of the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center in Winthrop for more than 20 years.

"It takes passion and compassion. But the rewards are many. And the amount of people that you can help, and the difference you can make, it's well worth it."

From survivor, to advocate.

"I started as a volunteer back around 1987. I had a small child at home but I had my own experiences with sexual abuse as a child."

Strickler says she had done her own work in healing with her trauma and felt like she had something to offer.

"It's common that people from their own experience say I want to give back. And people can give back in many different ways."

"The center provides 24 hour confidential support services for anybody affected by sexual violence."

Those services can range from a conversation on their hotline, to private counseling and advocacy for survivors choosing to seek medical attention or report to police.

"Every hospital in our catchment area is part of protocol. They call the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center Hotline. Then the volunteer is contacted. They meet the victim at the hospital and help them through the sexual assault exam."

Strickler's mission is to help survivors realize that what happened to them is not their fault, and by finding their voice, they can regain what was taken from them.

"We have had clients that we have served that have been as young as 2 and as old as 85."

"It's not like you suddenly forget what happened, but you also recognize that it doesn't have to define you."

Sexual violence can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status.

"There's those that you see are really wounded. But you know, weeks later, months later, years later, you see the difference that you've made. That is rewarding."

It's because of crisis centers and the resources they provide that women like Linda Alderson found the strength to stand up and advocate for others.

"Support. And to have someone hold your hand and just to smile and to tell you that everything is going to be all right."

"Someone who has really been through it, lived through it, survived... She's making our community stronger and better."

When the phone rings and they need Alderson to be there for someone in crisis, she'll be ready to help in any way she can.

"I just hope that I have helped at least one person in this world."

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual abuse.

Call the Maine Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line. 1-800-871-7741.