April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an annual campaign to help raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.
While finishing up her degree at Austin Peay State University, Holly Bouldin, 27, a wife, mother of two young girls and U.S. Army veteran, volunteers her time to help victims of sexual assault at Clarksville’s Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center at 230 Dover Road.
Bouldin will soon train to become a victim’s advocate at the center.
The facility that offers dentistry and other medical services transitioned in October into a program that also offers behavioral health services such as therapy for individuals, couples and families.
In addition to treating victims of sexual assault, the Matthew Walker center assists people in their daily struggles, which range from depression and anxiety to sexual issues, co-dependency, substance abuse, treatment and stress management.
“I was first sexually assaulted as an infant by my mother’s boyfriend,” Bouldin said. “When I was 18 months old, my dad got custody of me. When he remarried, I was age 4, and the sexual assaults began again.”
Bouldin said from her kindergarten years through 15 years old, she was repeatedly raped by a stepbrother and the neighbor’s son.
In her early college years in another state and later in the Army, Bouldin said she was raped, groped and harassed through her early and mid-20s.
“While in college, I was drugged from a glass of water a co-worker had given me,” Bouldin said. “I confronted him later. He denied raping me but told me that he knew I was not in the right state of mind, which, by definition, would still be rape, even if you don’t want to admit it.”
A new chapter in life
Bouldin decided to allow the history of her assaults not define her as a person, but rather use those traumatic experiences of hurt and pain to help others heal.
She received treatment herself from the wounds of sexually assault throughout her life, which opened a whole new chapter.
Holly married Randy Bouldin last New Year’s Eve and returned to college, this time enrolled as a senior at Austin Peay, majoring in criminal justice and minoring in psychology.
While her busy days are spent volunteering at the Matthew Walker center, Bouldin enjoys her marriage and keeps up with her studies, while she raises two young daughters from a previous marriage.
“Most people who have been sexually assaulted don’t even know there are resources available to help them,” Bouldin said. “Some victims who do not seek help can get in a cycle of continuing to be victims themselves, or they could turn around and abuse someone else.”
Cherilyn Padgett, a therapist at Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center, said those who are victimized and seek treatment can sometimes be educated on assault prevention.
“Not only are we treating people who are victimized here, but we are hoping to prevent future sexual assaults,” Padgett said. “When a victim comes in, we first try to get an idea of the level of care they will need. If it involves a child, we will talk to the caregiver, or parent, to see what their understanding is. At times, they might also need some counseling.”
Matthew Walker Center therapist Brittney McHughes said according to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds.
“That’s just over 60 seconds or a minute,” McHughes said. “That’s not a lot of time, and it involves a lot of people.”
Working towards the future
When Bouldin graduates from Austin Peay, she hopes to first work with a police department.
“I would like to work toward becoming a detective or investigator, involving sex crimes,” Bouldin said. “My longterm goal is to work with the FBI or the U.S. Marshal’s Service, pursuing human traffickers and child traffickers. I think I would enjoy kicking the doors in and taking away some of these perpetrators.”
Additionally, Bouldin said she would like to be there for people who are victimized by sexual crimes, pointing them in the direction of getting both justice and treatment.
The Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center will sponsor a Sexual Assault Empowerment Walk on April 24 at 9 a.m. at Liberty Park in Clarksville. For more information, call 931-245-3985.