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Victims, advocates take 2-mile jump against sexual assault

Donna Rathbun, Vandenberg’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, skydives above Lompoc April 20 in support of “Operation Free-Fall”,  Thousands of people jump during the annual nation-wide event held during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, to empower survivors and to raise awareness to what has become the nation’s most under reported crime.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christina Rumsey)

Donna Rathbun, Vandenberg’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, skydives above Lompoc April 20 in support of “Operation Free-Fall”, Thousands of people jump during the annual nation-wide event held during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, to empower survivors and to raise awareness to what has become the nation’s most under reported crime. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christina Rumsey)

Donna Rathbun, Vandenberg’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, gears up for her first skydive in support of “Operation Free-Fall” April 20,  Thousands of people jump during the annual nation-wide event held during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, to empower survivors and to raise awareness to what has become the nation’s most under reported crime.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christina Rumsey)

Donna Rathbun, Vandenberg’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, gears up for her first skydive in support of “Operation Free-Fall” April 20, Thousands of people jump during the annual nation-wide event held during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, to empower survivors and to raise awareness to what has become the nation’s most under reported crime. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christina Rumsey)

Moments before her jump, Donna Rathbun, Vandenberg’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, sees the city of Lompoc two miles below during “Operation Free-Fall” April 20.  Thousands of people jump during the annual nation-wide event held during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, to empower survivors and to raise awareness to what has become the nation’s most under reported crime.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Adam Guy)

Moments before her jump, Donna Rathbun, Vandenberg’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, sees the city of Lompoc two miles below during “Operation Free-Fall” April 20. Thousands of people jump during the annual nation-wide event held during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, to empower survivors and to raise awareness to what has become the nation’s most under reported crime. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Adam Guy)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- So....you think you have control of your fear? Maybe. But what if something happened and you lost that control, what would you do? Would you find a way to take it back?

A sexual assault survivor did just that on April 20, along with members from the North County Rape Crisis Center and Vandenberg's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, by leaping from a plane two miles above Lompoc.

"It's going to take much less courage for me to jump out of a plane than it takes a victim of sexual assault just to get through one day," said Donna Rathbun, Vandenberg SARC.

Thousands of people throughout the country participate in "Operation Free-Fall" as a nation-wide event held during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, to empower survivors and to raise awareness to what has become the nation's most under reported crime.

One in six women and one in thirty-three men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, according to the North Country Rape and Crisis Center, and those who are attacked continue to suffer even after the assault.

"Survivors often feel alone, ashamed, and out of control," Mrs. Rathbun said. "This is how we're showing them that they aren't and we're here."

One sexual assault survivor showed up to put her attack and the shame associated with it behind her.

"People treated me like it was my fault and it wasn't," she said anonymously. "It's also not a dirty little secret that we should put away and never talk about again. We need to talk about it and take action."

Before the jump, she was shaky but ready.

"I'm scared," the survivor said, "but I'm jumping to take back the control my attacker took from me. It's my way of saying 'take that, and get out of my life'."

She got into the propeller plane with Mrs. Rathbun, whose growing excitement could be heard in her voice.

"More than 860 people reported being raped or sexually assaulted just in Santa Barbara County in 2006," she said. "I'm doing this for them."

After a 13,000 foot fall, the jumpers landed with a new perspective on their lives.

"Intense, cold, scary, totally worth it!" the survivor said when she was back on the ground. "I took back my self-worth! I took it back and we have to do this again. I did it!"

When Mrs. Rathbun landed, a mixture of wind-burn and excitement turned her face bright red. She and her husband embraced with huge smiles.

"I'm so glad I did this!" she said. "It was so powerful and is going to become a very expensive hobby!"

Her new-found passion for skydiving is reflected in her passion for advocacy.

"This was for all the victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault," she said.

To register to jump with Operation Freefall, click here. For more information, call Mrs. Rathbun at 606-7272, or call the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center at 736-8535 or click here.