Courtlyn Cook had two options the night she was raped.
She could stay silent and heal alone, or she could report the crime that had been committed against her.
“The first option was much more appealing, as I knew the latter would make the situation more difficult in the immediate future,” said Cook, who shared her story Monday at an event promoting Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. “Despite death threats from my rapist, I made the difficult decision to report it immediately.”
Cook was sexually assaulted in Athens in 2015 by a stranger and serial rapist who had never gone to trial. She chose to report it to police, and her case went to trial three years later.
“To this day, this is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life,” Cook said. “At the time, I had no idea how my story would turn out in the end.”
Law enforcement and other community resources were standing ready to support Cook after she made the tough decision to report. Similar support is available locally to rape survivors seeking help.
Safe Harbor Children’s Center hosted the awareness event Monday along with the College of Coastal Georgia and Faithful Love, an organization that reaches out to women in the community who are victims of sex trafficking.
Safe Harbor runs the Connie Smith Rape Crisis Center in Brunswick.
The center offers a full range of services to survivors, including access to a nurse who specializes in caring for sexual assault victims.
The event aimed to bring community members together to discuss sexual assault and ways the crime can be prevented. One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
The event also educated college students about the importance of consent and respect for others.
“It’s impossible to prevent something that lives in shadows,” said Michelle Johnston, president of Coastal Georgia. “And it’s difficult to raise awareness about something that you’re not working towards solutions for.”
Open dialogue is necessary, she said, to stop sexual assault and to support survivors. Education, bystander training, access to resources and zero tolerance can help address sexual assault, Johnston said.
“One incident, one situation is too many,” she said.
Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey read a proclamation declaring April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. And Cook, who today works at the local Rape Crisis Center, shared her own firsthand experience reporting her sexual assault.
Police stood by her side, she said, and other community resources offered support.
“The detective I worked with that night, who also worked my case all the way throughout the trial and even testified on the stand for three days straight, is my personal hero,” Cook said.
Her trial lasted several days and ended with a guilty charge from the jury. Cook’s rapist was later given a life sentence.
“I never could imagine that, on the heels of my worst nightmare, I would witness the most compassionate and caring sides of humanity,” Cook said.
The immense support she received gave Cook the courage to pursue her justice.
“Throughout this entire process, I gained an endless amount of respect and appreciation for detectives, law enforcement, the DA’s office, rape crisis centers and their staff and volunteers and everyone else who helped me along the way,” she said.
The Rape Crisis Center hotline is available 24/7, and the number is 1-800-205-7037.