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Amber McCutcheon is taking it upon herself to raise awareness of the staggering statistics of sexual trauma and to encourage healing and prevention all over the world through "Healing Our Past Experiences" or HOPE.

As a victim herself, McCutcheon, of Marquand, began looking for guidance and instead was asked to help others.

"I had become desperate enough to seek healing and I went to a place that caters to women to find a support group for survivors of sexual trauma," McCutcheon said. "The director told me they didn't have any programs and approached me a few hours later to pray about teaching a class. I thought, I am a mess, I can't help anybody."

McCutcheon said she struggled with the decision but realized this subject was something nobody wanted to talk about and was one that needed a different platform to begin helping victims heal.

She held her first class in the fall of 2010 with just five girls and now she is helping thousands.

"We all have past experiences that make us who we are today for better or for worse," McCutcheon said. "Mine just happens to include being sexually abused, but that's not my identity."

McCutcheon said the goal is to grow the organization into a nationwide source and then worldwide. 

"But our heart is to raise awareness that prevention is needed, raise awareness that healing can be had, and raise awareness to connect people with the resources they need," McCutcheon said. "It is not just for those who have been directly affected by sexual trauma but the family have all been affected as well."

McCutcheon explained that being sexually violated affects every part of your being and it takes specific things to recognize and overcome it and the same bandage can not be put on everything and expect it to heal the same way.

"I was wounded and so many girls like me continue to get wounded because a shark in the water smells blood and they just circle and it keeps happening, but the only way to bring it to a scar is to heal it," McCutcheon said. "When we get triggered that ugly scab gets ripped off and we start gushing blood and we want to put a Band-Aid on it and not deal with it. Accepting it means that it doesn't control you anymore."

McCutcheon says HOPE teaches women it was not their fault and helps hand back that guilt and shame they carry around with them. 

"I talk about how perpetrators have a plan and how we are just part of that plan," McCutcheon said. "Not every manipulator is a perpetrator but every perpetrator is a manipulator, always, and they are masters at it."

McCutcheon said she felt responsible for her abuse and carried the guilt around with her for years. Every Tuesday she said she does a YouTube channel to answer all the tough questions and to share stories of hope in order to help girls move forward and heal.

"I am not alone. You are not alone," McCutcheon said. "Our logo is linking arms and marching forward because you are not alone."

While McCutcheon finds strength through God she is clear that the program is inclusive to all belief systems saying that some victims may have a hard time believing God would allow something like this to happen.

"I remember being a teenager and being angry at God," McCutcheon said. "I remember thinking if there is a God why is he doing this and if I am loving God why is this happening to me and then God brought me to John 10:10. 'The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.' So I realized it wasn't God's plan, it was Satan's plan."

The tools offered by HOPE are said to start the healing process and help with being able to speak truth, build a healing foundation and learn how perpetrators have a plan.

"Whenever I talk about HOPE, I don't single out hurt hearts and the reason is if you go after the helping hearts, the hurt hearts will come but if you go after the hurt hearts I would have hid," McCutcheon said. "I didn't want to be exposed. I didn't want to be recognized. My passion comes from pain as does everybody else. When we think of it like that, that is how we approach it. I don't want girls to be violated yet again because they have been exposed so going forward it is showing them that they are not alone, which is the message that I wanted from the get-go."

McCutcheon said she is excited about some of the things going on in April that will open a lot of doors for the program which will allow her to reach more of those that need the message of hope and healing.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and McCutcheon said the definition of sexual assault is an unwanted, unasked for or age inappropriate sexual encounter. She said at times some forms of sexual assault can be left out of the discussion and she wants to raise awareness that any unwanted, unasked for sexual encounter is sexual assault. 

"True love doesn't say 'hey you're going to do this,'" McCutcheon said. "If you say 'hey I don't want to do that' and they keep pushing you, that's not love and that is harsh."

HOPE is having an Art Gallery and Dinner fundraiser event at 5 p.m, April 21 at Dodson's Orchard. Tickets must be purchased in advance by April 16 and the cost is $30 per person or $50 for a couple. Tickets can be purchased at https://beautyoutofbrokenness.eventbrite.com

"It is an art gallery and farm-to-table dinner," McCutcheon said. "It is called Beauty Out Of Brokenness, which I thought was perfect for an art show, you can come up with anything out of that. There is going to be artists set up with their art. Their fee to set up is one piece of art and that will go into a silent auction, but whatever else they sell is theirs."

McCutcheon said the dinner is at a farm venue and will give the full experience including going through the cattle troughs.

According to McCutcheon, funds raised are used to ensure the program can be given out at no cost to the women in need. Facilitators have a small cost for the curriculum, but McCutcheon said her goal is to be able to provide everything for free.

"The facilitator tools come in hot pink tool boxes because healing is gorgeous and it's equipped with all the tools," McCutcheon said. "There is a set of DVDs and CDs with printables so that they can print out as many as they need."

For more information about HOPE or to seek help, contact Amber McCutcheon at 1-844-2TRYHOPE or visit www.2TRYHOPE.com

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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