Aleesa Perez knows what it's like to have her world shaken.
On a dark December night in 2010, the teen was the victim of a violent attack and sexual assault in her home while babysitting her 19-month-old brother.
"My world changed. It was crushed, broken, shook and caved in. I'm glad I can say it wasn't all for the bad, and that many miraculous things have happened," Perez said. "On that night, I became a survivor."
Now, three and a half years later, the 16-year-old demonstrated the strength, poise and courage that made her not just a survivor of sexual assault, but an overcomer.
Standing before dozens of people who had gathered at the Sullivan Interagency Youth Services Center in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month on Wednesday, Perez shared her gripping story at Solano Speaks Out. The SafeQuest Solano-sponsored event featured a variety of inspirational speakers, live music and, most of all, a message of hope for victims of sexual assault.
Perez candidly recalled surviving an attack so terrible no one should ever experience.
Just 13 at the time, Perez said she had fallen asleep on her mother's bed. She suddenly awoke to what felt like "a punch in the back and a sharp pain cutting through her skin."
By the end of the night, she had been stabbed a total of 47 times and sexually assaulted, while her baby brother had been stabbed 13 times.
"Though the healing process hasn't been easy, thanks to countless blessings, miracles and God's healing hand, we are both here today," Perez said.
Even worse than the physical scars she suffered were the emotional scars that went unseen, Perez said.
"It took me months to acknowledge the sexual assault part of the crime. I was so ashamed of what happened, but by being with you today, I refuse to have shame," she said.
"No matter the intensity of the crime, rape is rape," Perez added.
According to Perez, 1 in 3 women world wide are raped or beaten in their lifetime, and someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes.
Though the road to recovery isn't easy, Perez said, "you don't have to walk alone, there are so many resources that want to help you."
"We can help prevent it by bringing awareness and let people know it's not OK," Perez continued.
"Talk about the elephant in the room," she urged. "Sexual assault is an uncomfortable topic, but we can't let fear get the better of us."
For Toni Dumonte, executive director of SafeQuest Solano, the subject of sexual assault hits especially close to home, as she publicly shared for the first time Wednesday that her own mother had been a victim.
"SafeQuest has been part of this community since 1975, and we are not going away until this county no longer needs us," Dumont said.
"My mother never talked about that night to anyone," Dumonte, who was only 5 years old at the time, recalled. "So when someone asks my why I do what I do, it's because sexual assault is real to me.
"Each number is a real person and each person matters to me," she added.
Her message to those who continue to suffer in silence was simple: "You are real, you are not alone and we are your voice."
For more information, visit http://safequest.us/ or call the 24-hour support line, 1-866-4UR-SAFE, if you believe you've ex-perienced domestic violence or have been sexually assaulted.
Other speakers at the awareness event included Rev. David Isom, who serves on the advisory board of the non-profit advocacy group, Chad Sniffed with the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Lisa Lewis-Javar, Capt. Erin Mires of Travis Air Force Base, Shannon Barkely, director of women's health with Napa-Solano Kaiser Permanente, Aaron Curtison with Solano County Health & Human Services, Deputy District Attorney Krishna Abrams and musical guests Martin Luther and Danny Flowers.
Follow Staff Writer Catherine Mijs at Twitter.com/cmijs.