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Shades of Healing – an untold story never heals

a group of people pose for a photo in front of a teal mural

Contributors to the Shades of Healing mural pose for a group photo in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response classroom at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, March 24, 2021. The mural was painted to showcase the “five stages of healing” that victims go through after a sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaiah Miller)

An Airman paints a mural

Senior Airman Heather Clayton, 19th Maintenance Group maintenance operations center controller, helps paint the Shades of Healing mural in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response classroom at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, March 24, 2021. The part of the mural she is painting is the section intended to display the fifth stage of healing in which the victim is restored and freed from the burden of trauma. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaiah Miller)

two airmen paint a mural

Staff Sgt. Megan Bilanzich (front), 62nd Airlift Squadron loadmaster instructor, and Airman 1st Class Karolina Burtell, 19th Operations Support Squadron weather apprentice, paint on the Shades of Healing mural in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response classroom at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, March 24, 2021. The part of the mural they’re painting is the section intended to display the fifth stage of healing in which the victim is restored and freed from the burden of trauma. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaiah Miller)

a dog paints a paw print on a mural

Benji, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) therapy dog, paints his paw print on the Shades of Healing mural in the SAPR classroom at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, March 24, 2021. The mural was painted to showcase the “five stages of healing” that victims go through after a sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaiah Miller)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. However, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) office works to maintain awareness year-round and strives to be a source of support and healing for those who have been a victim of sexual assault.

This year, one way they have advanced these efforts is by painting a mural entitled “Shades of Healing: An Untold Story Never Heals.”

The idea for the mural spawned in October 2020, and thanks to a number of volunteers, has since grown into what it is today.

Staff Sgt. Megan Bilanzich, 62d Airlift Squadron instructor loadmaster, was one of these volunteers.

“I want people to see the different faces of pain and the long healing process that one goes through after an assault,” Bilanzich said. “With this project our hope is that those who see it will be inspired to help one another and put an end to unwanted enemies such as sexual assault and the devastation that comes with it.”

The mural depicts five stages of healing victims go through after an assault. Linda Benjamin, 19th Airlift Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, described those five stages as follows:

“When an assault occurs it distorts every aspect of who we are. That’s stage one,” she said.

“Stage two is uninvited healing. What happened was not wanted, invited or consented to. It was not the victim’s fault. Sometimes the decision to heal is made for you. Memories are triggered without effort and the sudden presence of these memories can make one feel overwhelmed, ‘crazy’ or out of control.”

“The next stage is intellectualized healing. Memories are so clear that they can no longer be denied. Intellectually the victim knows that it happened but remains emotionally distant. The information is remembered as historical fact but feelings aren’t attached to the memories.”

“Stage four is personalized healing. As the victim sees how the past abuse is impacting them today they make a deliberate decision to heal. While they constantly work through the healing process, feelings become attached and ever-present. They begin to explore avenues of support. This stage takes lots of work and one learns about the pain and the release that healing brings.”

“The last stage is celebrated healing. As the victim begins to trust that the process works they are able to see healing in the pain. They continue to work and move forward, even when it appears they are going backward, and they now fully understand healing and it becomes a celebration.”

The mural serves to illustrate these five stages and provide a source of support, encouragement and comfort for victims in knowing they are not navigating the road to recovery alone.

A long-time Volunteer Victim Advocate (VVA) for the SAPR office, Tech. Sgt. Brandon Buchwalter, was another volunteer who assisted with painting the mural.

“This is one of those opportunities that creates a conversation and gets people to open up and relate to others,” Buchwalter said. “Maybe even realize that they need help or to help them understand others who have been through trauma and then grow as a person from partaking in it.”

The mural is open to visitors between April 5 and April 30, 2021, anytime between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday in the SAPR classroom, Building 1240.

Visitors are kindly asked to use the entrance on the right side of the building.

Benjamin said anyone thinking about visiting the SAPR office for any reason is strongly encouraged to.

“We are truly a safe place to seek support,” Benjamin said. “There is no judgment here and you will be heard and validated. We also have many on and off base resources to help as well if that is desired. I think the hardest part is walking through that door. Once people see we don’t judge them for what happened, they feel more comfortable and are able to let their guard down.”

The SAPR office has 28 VVAs ready to offer help and support to anyone who may want it. The office also hosts a weekly female support group Monday afternoons and a male support group on Thursday afternoons.

For more information contact the SAPR office by calling (501) 987-2685 or (501) 533-5467.

In the event of an emergency or to speak with a VVA at any time, call the hotline available 24/7 at (501) 987-7272.

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