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  • Writer's pictureDawn Helmrich

My Advocacy Journey

Updated: May 6

It was 10 years. 10 years after I had been raped. I thought I was ready. I went to a national sexual assault prevention conference on scholarship. I applied and it got paid for. I thought I was ready. But I wasn’t. For three days I didn’t leave the hotel room. I cowered in the bed, scared to see anyone or do anything. Only one person knew I was there. But that is all it took. She came to my room, worried about me, and she knocked on my door. I was so startled, but yet I answered. I couldn’t hide my anxiety or depression, but instead of giving into my fears she suggested I embrace them. It was a national advocacy day and she suggested I go and talk to some legislators.

That was my first time. It was so empowering for me that I decided that when I got back to Wisconsin I would figure out a way to help in my state as well.


I will discuss my journey as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and rape on a new show that I launched with Neil Parekh, “Shining Light on Shadows: A Candid Conversation About Mental Health.” Kat Klawes will be our guest. All three of us are survivors of rape / assault / abuse and all three of us have found our voice as advocates. At times, the advocacy work has also taken a toll.

You can watch the live show or recording on Facebook, Twitter*, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram*, and Neil’s website.

*We won’t know the exact urls for Twitter and Instagram until we go live. These links go to Neil's Twitter and my Instagram accounts respectively.


It took several years, but there was this bill that I was very passionate about. The bill would give survivors the right to an advocate the minute that the police were called until the trials were over. I remember thinking about leaving the hospital and how I got handed a pamphlet with one support group and one number on it. I felt completely lost and alone.

No one ever followed up with me, I went through everything with no one but my mom on my side, no one to fight for me.

So when the Wisconsin Coalition on Sexual Assault reached out and asked me if I would speak at the capitol about this particular bill they were trying to pass I jumped at the chance. I wanted other people to have the opportunity to have someone walk this journey with them and advocate on their behalf.

I thought I would go there and say my statement and leave. When I got there, I filled out a slip of paper with my name and the bill I was going to testify for. That day there were four bills on the docket. I can’t even remember all of them, but one was about a stop light that people wanted to have put up at a certain intersection. I later found out that a mother had lost her child while crossing that street without a stop light. I instantly stopped thinking it was trivial. All of these things were important to someone for their own reasons.

I sat on a very uncomfortable chair for many hours, watching senators sip water and coffee and juice. They kept picking names from a “hat” and people would come to the table and testify about why they wanted a certain bill to pass. A “page” would come in the room and take orders from the senators for food and drinks. Hours had passed and I really had to use the bathroom, but I was so afraid that my name would be called when I left the room. I left anyway. I sat in the hallway for 15 minutes wanting to leave, crying on the floor. My anxiety was at an all-time high. It was 8 before the bill and my name got called. But I did it. I stood before them and told them why it was so important for them to pass this bill.

When I left to go home I sat in my car for a long time before I could even drive the hour and half to get home. I swore I would never do that to myself again. Since that time I have testified, written letters, gone before the press and sat face to face with legislators more times than I can count. It never gets easier. But it is always worth the effort. Each time I tell a piece of my story, I know that someone will benefit from my words, and that is all that matters to me. I have to table the fear and anxiety if only for that moment, because my voice has power and that alone makes me empowered to do this work.  


As a reminder, Wednesday, April 24 is Denim Day, an international day of advocacy where people where jeans to show support for survivors of sexual assault. It has its origins in Italy. It's also Aurora Health Care Foundation's Hope Shining Blue event in Milwaukee. Kat and I are both proud to be past Thrive Award honorees.


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