Flower Mound resident runs support group for sexually abused and assaulted women

Michelle Robinson, 36, holds the first Shelter from the Storm workbook she completed. The opened page shows where she first voiced her thoughts on her sexual abuse and rape. (Photo by Adam Schrader)
By ADAM SCHRADER
Published in The Dallas Morning News on Dec. 3, 2015

Flower Mound resident Michelle Robinson runs Shelter from the Storm, a support group for sexually abused and assaulted women. Robinson, 36, said she was abused and gang-raped as a child.

“We don’t claim this is a counseling group or to have all the answers,” Robinson said. “But giving real-life examples of how we dealt with our abuse is beneficial to women.”

The support group is affiliated with Irving Bible Church and takes its name from a Christian-based, 12-unit workbook written by Cynthia Kubetin Littlefield and James Mallory.

Kubetin Littlefield said the Shelter from the Storm support group is what she intended when she wrote the book, and that it’s designed to be worked through multiple times. She also released a DVD series to accompany it in group settings.

“I’ve seen it tremendously help women, particularly in the group settings,” she said. “I think it should be mandatory for people to be in a support group because healing won’t really come if you’re not. In support groups, you get so many different views and accounts that may help with your own.”

Robinson said that despite the workbook’s religious base she’s helped women of all faiths, as well as many women who are atheist or agnostic.

“Those women think that if God is real, he could have stopped it and didn’t,” she said. “So we don’t shove scripture down their throat.”

Robinson leads with what she wishes she had heard when she was healing from her abuse, she said.

“The facilitator’s guide is good for those ‘church answers,’ ” she said. “But when you’re dealing with hearts and people, you kind of just need to be real about it.”

Shelter from the Storm offers two-hour classes each week for 12 weeks, one for each chapter of the workbook. Shelter from the Storm usually has three groups a semester with nine women in each. Robinson meets with every woman before placement to make sure similar survivors can support each other.

The organization started in 2006 after Irving Bible Church began a recovery ministry called Celebrate Recovery.

“Survivors found that it didn’t hone in enough on sexual abuse,” Robinson said.

So Robinson met with a woman who found the curriculum, planning to lead classes based on Shelter from the Storm after they finished testing the workbook together. She’s now run the support group for eight years.

“I only do one class at a time because I’m essentially working through my own sexual abuse each time I lead the class,” she said.

Robinson selects and leads other group leaders, meeting with them to get updates on their groups. The group leaders are all women who have been through the program.

“Some support groups use counselors and spiritual leaders to run these groups,” she said. “But until you’ve been put into this situation, you really just don’t get it.”

Shelter from the Storm is also unique because classes close, Robinson said.

“We promised the ladies that nobody new will come in so we can build trust from the very beginning,” Robinson said. “If a woman is late or misses a class, we call them and check in. We love them so much we’re going to push them to be here and on time every single week.”

Robinson said it took her three years of teaching classes to feel healed. When she flips back through her workbook answers, she’s proud to see how she became more honest in her healing over time.

“So I always encourage ladies to be 100 percent honest from the get-go,” she said. “They’re only going to reach that peak of recovery faster if they’re more honest and open.”

Robinson finds that the women are always more honest and vigilant in their recovery in repeat classes.

Chapter 6, when they first share their stories, is when recovery starts to become noticeable, Robinson said.

“Many times, it’s the absolute first time they’ve ever shared their story,” Robinson said. “They break down crying immediately after they finish sharing because they feel relief and freedom.”

Chapter 7, which covers coping with anger, is almost as impactful, Robinson said.

“Survivors don’t understand that it’s healthy to still feel anger after [they] tell their story,” she said. “But they’re angry at everybody because they don’t place the blame where it belongs.”

There is an average of 293,000 sexual assault victims ages 12 and older each year, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Someone known to the victim commits an estimated 80 percent of assaults. While it’s difficult to know how many sexual assaults actually occur, RAINN estimates that 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

Robinson said that many try writing letters to their abusers for closure but don’t get a response. When they do, the accused only admits to part of the allegation, if at all. Most survivors resort to simulated confrontations. Robinson meets with them alone and takes on the role of their abuser.

“They get really into it and start yelling at me, I’m the [jerk] that did it and that they remember everything,” she said. “It’s a little weird, but it’s all about them just having a voice, and they always feel so much better about life afterward.”

Robinson said she frequently meets women who have been date-raped in Flower Mound. But the women rarely file police reports, she said.

Flower Mound Police Captain Wess Griffin said that sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes nationally. Only 36 percent of rapes are reported to police, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

To date, there have been 23 sexual assaults reported this year in Flower Mound, according to the Flower Mound Police Department. Since 2005, there have been 209 reported sexual assaults in the town. The most assaults, 28, occurred in 2010. The fewest occurred in 2012 — nine assaults.

“The FMPD partners with the Children’s Advocacy Center of Denton County, Friends of the Family, SANE nurses and the Denton County District Attorney’s office to offer victims a network of social services designed to help make the victim whole again after an offense has occurred,” Griffin said. “We encourage victims to come forward and report abuse or assaults so that we can assist them as quickly as possible.”

Griffin said reporting sexual assaults quickly is crucial, but the health and well-being of the victim is most important.

“Oftentimes, victims may take days or weeks before making an outcry to a friend or family member, and this delays the delivery of critical services to the victim and may hinder the investigation of the offense,” Griffin said.

In Texas, there are no statutes of limitations for most sexual assaults and abuse, according to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures. There is also no statute of limitations if a rape kit has been collected and subjected to DNA testing.

“But they get scared because it’s their word against the abusers and it’s hard to prove if they didn’t immediately go get a rape kit,” Robinson said. “Sometimes they ask me to go with them. They make it into the police station and walk back out before talking to the police.”

So, Robinson hopes the biggest lesson survivors learn is to tell someone about the abuse immediately.

“Keep telling people, even if it’s embarrassing, until someone believes you and takes action on your behalf,” Robinson said. “The abuser can’t continue without getting justice like they did with me.”

For more information, email shelterfromthestormibc@gmail.com.