Christa is a Survivor of Sexual Assault, her story is hard to read and yet she comes out on top. She was able to more forward and rebuild her life. She has the strength like many of you.
“When you speak with a survivor of sexual assault, imagine that they are a loved one who has gone through this. How would you want them to be treated?”
Christa Hayburn was sexually assaulted by a superior at the Police Department where she served as a law enforcement officer.
For the next two years she did not report the assault to the department for fear of losing her job. When she experienced an unrelated injury and found out that she could no longer work as a police officer, she finally felt that she could report the assault to the Internal Affairs Department. After turning in a written description of the assault, she was taken to an interrogation room and questioned by two detectives for 6-8 hours.
“They whisked me away as soon as they saw that this involved a person in a position of power. That day was very retraumatizing.”
Christa says the department and the city did not take her report seriously or take measures to ensure that the perpetrator could not sexually assault others. After filing her report, Christa faced retaliation from the city. They expressed doubt about Christa’s medical reports regarding the injury that prevented her from continuing to serve on the police force, and appointed a private investigator to follow her.
Over the next four years, Christa fought against city officials to make sure that her report of sexual assault was investigated appropriately and that her injury was taken seriously. She eventually resigned from the department. Later, two more women reported being sexually assaulted by the same perpetrator, who had been promoted to deputy inspector.
Christa filed a federal retaliation lawsuit against the city, entering an extended legal process. She ultimately decided to discontinue the case for the good of herself and her family. “The day before my deposition I read through my internal affairs report and saw all the transcripts attacking me and attacking my credibility…trying to find flaws in me and my story,” says Christa. “I thought to myself—I’m done. How much more can I put myself through? When do I say, ‘enough is enough? That’s when I started a journey of setting boundaries for myself.’”
Christa is disappointed in the way her case was handled and believes that police departments need to have more training about how to work with survivors and those who have experienced trauma. At the department where she worked, Christa says that “Not only are these incidents happening, but then the institution goes after the victim and protects the perpetrator.”
As a law enforcement officer herself, she saw her role as someone who should act with integrity to protect and serve her community. “I’ve led my life following the law. It’s so disheartening to see the department not following the standards of honor and integrity they hold others to.”
Christa is thankful that she can continue to help survivors through sharing her own story and letting others know they are not alone. “Who am I? I had no position of power within the police department. But I knew that consistently telling my story would help someone else.” Christa served as a star witness for another victim of the same perpetrator, and her testimony helped win the case.
Because of the sexual assault, Christa has experienced PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation. She found therapy and medication helpful in getting her through some particularly difficult periods of her healing, but regaining her sense of self has been most crucial. ”What’s been helpful for me has been learning who I am again. My identity was ripped away from me, and I had to relearn who Christa Hayburn was.”
She has also found meditation, exercise, and spending time outdoors to be helpful. “I’ve learned to treat myself with more self love than I have ever done in my life. I make sure to do things with my family, go out in nature, cook, spend time with my pets, spend time with friends—just be a normal human.”
Christa’s advice for other survivors is to not be afraid of relying on a support system of people you trust during the healing process. For Christa, her husband has been her greatest advocate. “He’s walked through this journey with me—through some ugly points. We are still together, and he is my biggest supporter,” says Christa. “I know what it’s like to have that support from someone, and that’s why it’s so important for me to give that support to others. If they can feel heard, then they’ll pass it on. It’s a ripple effect of love, compassion, and empathy.”
Christa finds strength, purpose, and healing in being an advocate for other survivors. “I never wanted to be a victim of my circumstances. I had to be an advocate for others and through that, for myself.” Christa recently worked with city officials to create a bill that would require all city workers to regularly receive sexual harassment training. “Being part of that was wonderful.”
Christa now works at a crisis center for sexual assault survivors where she finds fulfillment and continued healing through helping others and sharing her story. “I’m so glad I can be there for survivors. I will continue to advocate for change until true change takes place across the country. People in these institutions have to take sexual assault seriously and be more supportive of those who come forward.”
“Having the opportunity to share this is truly a gift—no one talks about it,” Christa says in regards to speaking about sexual assault within police departments. “But this is something we desperately need to talk about so that we can offer support and create true change in these communities.”
Christa’s hope for the future of sexual violence is that no one will have to fear coming forward to share their story. “No healing can be done when you’re afraid of losing everything from under you.”
“I’ve learned to step outside of my experience and realize that I have the ultimate control over my story and what the ending to that story looks like. The moment I realized that, I got my power back.”