Education, elimination, representation and ministration are not just words to Rebecca Weybright — they are the mission.
That mission recently garnered a national award for Weybright, executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Agency.
Weybright, who has led the regional sexual assault advocacy group since 2012, has received a National Sexual Violence Resource Center Visionary Voice Award for her extensive efforts at supporting sexual assault victims through the legal process and in life, educating communities about assaults and working toward assault prevention.
The awards are given out each year to people nominated by U.S. states, territories and tribal coalitions. Weybright was nominated for the award by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.
The award will be presented to Weybright at SARA’s annual Annette DeGregoria Grimm Awards Breakfast on Wednesday.
“Weybright successfully navigates that balance between supporting and compassionate direct services and evidence-informed and effective prevention, recognizing that both parts of this field need our attention,” the alliance said in its nomination. “Weybright leads by example and is respected by her community partners for having a strong vision for the agency while creating a voice for survivors in the community.”
It’s not easy. SARA’s mission is vast. Its volunteers and support staff get involved as soon as a sexual assault is reported. They assist victims through the process. They offer support and they offer therapy.
It is hard, but it’s worth it, Weybright said.
“The very nature of our work is tough. One of the most important things we do is believe victims and listen to them. We don’t tell them what to do. We give them information and help support them in their decisions,” she said.
“It’s important to recognize how much sexual violence happens. The figures are one in four women and one in six men are going to be victims either as children or adults,” she said. “We need to believe survivors. We need to work toward prevention. We need to do more in education. ‘Stranger danger’ is [one thing] but the vast majority of people who are assaulted know the perpetrator. We’d rather believe it is the person who reaches out and grabs you.”
SARA was founded in the late 1970s as the Charlottesville Rape Crisis Group and took on its current moniker in 1987. The organization serves residents of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Nelson, Louisa, Fluvanna and Greene counties. Its clients are anyone who has experienced or cares for someone who experienced sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual molestation, incest, sex trafficking, stalking, sexual harassment or unwanted touching.
Services are provided free to all survivors, whoever they are, SARA officials say. Those services include a 24-hour crisis hotline, trauma-informed therapy, emergency room advocacy, legal system advocacy and support groups.
SARA also offers a therapeutic horse and farm camp for girls and counseling and advocacy for non-offending parents and families of abused children.
Weybright long has labored on behalf of sexual assault victims, as well as the general populace, during her career with nonprofit agencies.
She worked with the YWCA Women’s Advocacy Program in Richmond and with Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault when it was the statewide coalition of sexual assault crisis centers.
She’s also served as executive director of the Charlottesville Free Clinic and the Community Children’s Dental Center and as housing manager for the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in education from Virginia Commonwealth University.
It is education that Weybright believes will eventually turn the tide and reduce or prevent sexual assaults.
Sometimes education comes in the form of national trends such as the #MeToo movement that called attention to sexual assault, rape and misconduct of famous and powerful people.
“It’s pretty crazy. It wouldn’t have happened five years ago,” she said. “The question is, how do we take this energy and use it to prevent sexual assaults and violence from happening. How do we change the culture?”
Weybright said she believes change will come.
“Society can change. It’s just getting more people involved in working toward those changes, talking about those changes,” she said. “Look at smoking. Sure, people are still smoking cigarettes, but it’s nothing like it was in the ‘70s or ‘60s or the 1950s. It’s a matter of time and a matter of believing.”