When the “Me Too” movement emerged just a year ago, the number of victims claiming to have been sexually assaulted went up significantly across the country including right here in the ArkLaTex.
Before the “Me Too” movement, 31-year-old JiDedjra Williams was starting a movement of her own in Shreveport. Her goal was to prevent people from becoming victims of sexual assault. At the young age of 5, Williams was assaulted by her own stepfather.
"I remember that he would have me come into the room while they (her brothers and sisters) were asleep or nobody was around,” said Williams. “He would have me come into the room and be on the bed. He would ask me to do things that a child my age should not be doing or a child period shouldn't be doing."
Her stepfather would threaten to kill her if she ever told anyone what he was doing. The truth eventually came out.
"I went to the bathroom and it was very painful,” she said. “I think I may have made a noise or something because my mom yelled from the other room trying to figure out what was going on."
After that, her stepfather was forced to leave. The abuse stopped, but the emotional wounds were deep.
"All of my life men, boys, have looked at me in sexual ways,” she said. “It was always about sex. I had self-esteem issues on top of being afraid to be seen."
When Williams was 13 an older man and neighbor, Steven Robinson, took advantage of her. She says he used music videos that showed women exposing their bodies, to get her comfortable with exposing her body. One of those videos featured Mystikal, the rapper who is currently jailed in Caddo Parish on a rape charge.
"One of his videos called "Shake it Fast" was one of the videos we used to sit down and watch," said Williams.
For years, Williams buried her pain until the day she saw Robinson on the news. In 2015, Robinson was being accused of sexually assaulting three young girls.
"I felt bad and I felt guilty,” said Williams. “I felt like, if I would have said something back then, it probably could have stopped it from happening to them."
In the days following the report, Williams cried heavily. She came forward with her testimony and helped put Robinson behind bars. Shortly after, she formed a Facebook page called “Raise Your Voiceee.” The site provides resources for victims and allows them a to speak openly.
Today, she is a mother of four children and she has a message for other victims of sexual assault.
"Hold your head up high and speak your truth and own your truth,” Williams said. “Never be ashamed of it. It is your story and only you know your truth."
Williams’ case is far too common in the ArkLaTex. According to Angela Henderson, Project Celebration sexual assault director, the number of women calling about current and past sexual assault cases doubled during the “Me Too” movement and those numbers continued to rise during the summer months.
“Just grasp that every 98 seconds someone in the United States is sexually assaulted,” said Henderson.
There are many facets to sexual assault which is a broad term that includes rape, incest, sodomy, etc. To help decrease the number of sexual assault cases, the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LaFASA) and local organizations like Project Celebration are increasing their prevention efforts through education.
“Our push is social change,” said Henderson. “A lot of people think this is normal. It is not.”
According to Henderson, sexual assault is any touching that is unwanted.
Experts say parents should look out for changes in their kids' behaviors, they also recommend that parents keep a close eye on their child’s clothing. Parents should have all login information for their kids' social media pages and smart devices. Parents should also take the initiative to have those tough conversations.
"No one wants to talk about sex or sexuality or abuse. If they are uncomfortable with that we can do that," said Henderson.
Today, Williams wishes her family would have had those tough conversations with her as a young girl.
Sexual Assault Resources: