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New Pittsburgh-area program helps sexual assault victims

April is sexual assault awareness month.

Allegheny County leaders and advocates gathered outside council chambers Tuesday to announce a new program to help survivors.

“When I was 16 years old, I was assaulted by a close friend and I blamed myself. Listened to my abuser when he told me no one would believe me,” said Hilary Ballard, a sexual assault survivor.

Ballard shared that she had been sexually assaulted twice in their life.

“At 22 years old, when a stranger forced himself on me, I blamed myself again,’ said Ballard

Ballard has focused on healing and sharing her story to empower other survivors to share their truth.

That’s why she joined Allegheny County leaders and advocates from Pittsburgh Action Against Rap (PAAR) as they launch a new program to help sexual assault victims.

It’s called the First Steps program.

“Before we had the First Steps program, we never had case management. A lot of our case management would fall onto our therapists, which would keep someone in therapy for a long time,” said Sadie Restivo, executive director of PAAR.

Restivo said that often, clients would be re-traumatized having to re-tell their stories.

Now the six-month-old program is more full circle, meeting people where they are and giving more individualized care based on someone’s needs.

“It’s hard for us to expect someone to jump right into trauma process therapy if their basic needs are unmet. They may not know where their next meal is coming from or where they’re sleeping that night,” said Restivo.

Ballard and these advocates say the very first step starts with awareness, to foster a culture of empathy and understanding for all survivors.

“Everyday is a great day to believe a survivor,” said Ballard.

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