Local Woman’s Compelling Story Proves Healing Brings Happiness
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
“As I was approaching home after a long days work, I noticed three men walking down the street. Something about this was suspicious so I decided to drive around the block and when I returned to my house, they were gone. I parked my car, grabbed my things and walked up to my door. In an instant, I was struck on the head and knocked to the ground. I raised my head to feel the blood running down my face and a voice threatening to kill me if I screamed as a gun was pushed into my face. I was scared for my life, my pleas to leave me and take my belongings ignored. Unable to escape and feeling terrified and alone, my only hope was to pray for my life and for those that I love, hoping that I would see them again.”
A description like this might give you a chill, a lump in your throat, or even cause you to gasp. It’s the true survival story of a Noblesville woman, one who has since committed her life to making victims, survivors.
Michelle Corrao survived a brutal sexual assault in 1996 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is one of 293,000 women who are attacked each year—often close to their home or in a place they feel safe. Many never speak of it or seek resources to provide a full recovery. For those reasons, April is a very important month to increase awareness of what is referred to as a “silent epidemic” haunting our culture.
This month is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Did you know that sexual assault is the most underreported crime in America? Many victims struggle to find the support they need to handle the trauma they have been through. It is personal for Corrao, and she hopes her work to support victims will empower them to be happy, healthy and strong survivors.
A Placed Called Prevail
Four years after Corrao survived her assault, she moved to Noblesville with her husband Chris. Still dealing with a roller coaster of emotions and seeking support or some way to heal this wound, she found Prevail in the local newspaper. She picked up the phone immediately and called about the support groups they offered for victims of sexual assault.
“I talked to Deb Williams, who invited me to come to a victims of crime group and I ended up co-facilitating the support group,” said Corrao.
Corrao co-facilitated support groups for about a year after that first visit. She then felt connected and compelled to leave the business world to take a part time position answering the phone.
“I personally think answering the phone is one of the most important jobs because you are the first voice—that first responder,” said Corrao.
Over the past fourteen years with Prevail, Corrao has held various positions within the organization and now serves as the assistant director.
When asked what people should know about Prevail and what they can do to help those victims of sexual assault, Corrao’s commitment is personal. She wants people to know that Prevail is here for them.
“We offer life-changing support services for victims,” she said. “We meet them where they are, offer them a safe place to be, and sometimes we just give them a safe place to sit.”
Prevail also offers support groups for children, teens and adults who have been in homes with domestic violence, been a victim of sexual assault and other crimes.
“We help support all victims of any type of crime,” said Corrao. “Some may have been assaulted two or three times, others may have been held at gun point or robbed. These traumas are life-altering and deep.”
Corrao understands how these victims feel, she’s been in their shoes. She goes on to explain, “When I left the hospital I realized I wanted to talk to someone that had been through something similar and was living a happy healthy life. Our clients need that hope. They do all the work to recover and we are here to walk the journey with them.”
Friends and Faith Unite
Corrao emphasizes that the healing process is long, but she also knows how it impacts more than the victim. “The support from family and friends are crazy important, but it is also good for those family and friends who are secondary victims to get support and education on the affects of sexual assault so they are able to support their loved one and themselves,” she said.
“I would not be in the position I am in today if not for my faith, my hero Detective Arthur Billingsley, who felt that nudge which lead him to me, and my husband, Chris, who never left my side and was my eyes, ears and voice for several years, my family and friends, and all who are in my life today,” shares Corrao. “I never imagined my life as good as this. My son Christian Arthur is named after Detective Arthur Billingsley and I still cannot believe I am alive to say that.”
Corrao stresses that more good has happened to her then bad. She shares that she never thought it to be possible to be married to Chris and have two amazing children. “I am beyond blessed. It was not easy getting to this point in my life. You have to learn to live life differently, it’s a new kind of normal.”
This Month, But More
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, giving this topic a platform to inform, educate and empower victims and those who play an invaluable role in their physical and emotional journey to recovery. Corrao believes sexual assault awareness is lacking, but she also believes that knowledge provides power. But one month isn’t enough time, elevating awareness has to be an evolving effort.
One way Corrao and Prevail hope to support the healing process and raise awareness in the community, is by taking part in the Clothesline Project. Survivors are given the opportunity to decorate a colored shirt that represents what they have been through and then share by hanging it on a clothesline. The project started in 1990 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts as a way to address the issue of violence against women. The shirts are to be a testimony of the problems of crimes against women and children, but Prevail also encourages men to participate.
Corrao and Prevail are working to bring a silent epidemic to the surface. Safety: Prevail provides safety cards around Hamilton County posting phone numbers and a plan if help is needed. Many of these cards can be found in restrooms in public places. Another activation of note is the organization’s Safe Dates program for eight graders in Hamilton County. The interactive program focuses on what a healthy relationship should be like, bringing attention to behaviors that trigger harmful actions.
Intervention: Prevail also works very closely with community partners to provide timely, victim-centered care when a crime is committed. This includes working with the prosecutor’s office, hospitals, law enforcement, child advocacy center, and the Department of Child Services.
“We would love to eventually need to shut our doors because we have eliminated the act of assault,” said Corrao. “But until then we will work with this dynamic sexual assault responce team to provide immediate and comprehensive services that best serve the victim.”
Be a Part of a Volunteer Network
Even if you have never been a victim of a crime, you can help Prevail and the victims they empower to become survivors. “We welcome all volunteers,” said Corrao. “We welcome everyone to get to know us better and identify where you might be inspired to help.”
You can volunteer for anything from data entry, to answering phones, to co-facilitating, or serving on a committee for events.”
For a full description of services provided, and how to get involved, visit prevailofhamiltoncounty.com. To hear more of Michelle Corrao’s brave journey and her inspiring work, visit michellecorrao.com.
- White: represents a person who died because of violence
- Yellow/Beige: represents survivors of domestic/family violence
- Red/Pink/Orange: represents survivors of rape and sexual assault
- Blue/Green: represents survivors of incest or child sexual abuse
- Purple/Lavender: represents people attacked because of their sexual orientation