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Wendy Reuer, Published September 22 2010

Taking awareness to the streets

It took more than two years before Keshia Ham could muster the strength to tell her family she had been raped.

But when she did, Ham didn’t stop there. She got help from a counselor and eventually visited the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center in Fargo.

On Tuesday night, the petite, pretty blonde stood before victims, families and hundreds of volunteers at the 20th Annual Take Back the Night event, armed with her story and a desire to help others.

Ham, a Casselton, N.D., native, was raped when she was 16 by someone she was once close to. She waited until they were no longer attending high school together before she talked about the incident.

Like so many victims of domestic violence, Ham thought it was her fault.

She said it was talking about it and her faith that helped her step forward.

“God built me back up, and he can build anybody back up,” Ham said.

Take Back the Night celebrated its 20th anniversary in Fargo with a different format, instead of hundreds walking to a central location, attendees met for a community picnic then marched through the streets back home in an effort to build awareness of domestic violence.

Minnesota State University Moorhead sophomores Jenna Otremba and Tiffany Zilka both heard about the event from professors. Otremba said she thought about her younger cousins, and hoped events like Take Back the Night will help make the world a safer place for them to grow up in.

The Rape and Abuse Crisis Center organized the event. The center helps train volunteers as advocates for rape and domestic violence victims.

A rare male advocate, North Dakota State University student Adam Mandour, 21, attended Tuesday to help out anywhere he could.

Mandour said he hopes he can be the voice victims need at the other end of the phone line.

Lynn Speral, director of development at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, said last year alone 36 people in Minnesota and North Dakota died as the result of domestic violence.

“Those deaths were ruled domestic violence. We know there are others,” Speral said.

Speral said it takes immense strength to talk about such topics as Ham does.

Ham plans to carry her message forward. The soon-to-be salon student will be competing in the Miss North Dakota pageant later this year, where her platform will be rape and domestic abuse prevention and awareness.

“You want to think that will never happen in your community, but it does,” Ham said. “Only good can come from talking about it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530