It took Bailey Chamberlain five years to talk about it.

The Lemon Bay High School senior and Girl Scout leader is a sexual assault victim. She didn’t know how to talk to her parents or anyone else about what happened. So, she kept quiet.

“Mom kept thinking something was wrong, but I didn’t tell her,” Bailey said.

Finally, one day her family was having a discussion and she saw an opening.

“I just decided it was the right time,” she said. “It was hard, but it was a big relief.”

No one knows how many women, girls — men and boys even — are victims of sexual assault each year and never report it.

Charlotte County recently passed Bailey’s proclamation making the first full week of every April (which is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month) Sexual Assault Awareness Week in Charlotte County schools for teachers and students alike. The designation of the special week was a Girl Scout project which Bailey completed as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award criteria.

The Gold Award is the highest achievement for any young woman who is a Girl Scout.

But Bailey didn’t let it end there. She went to Tallahassee during the special week to participate in Lauren’s Kids Foundation’s 42 Hours for 42 Million advocacy walk at the state Capitol. The event is founded by Sen. Lauren Book, who is also a survivor of an assault.

“We thought the event would be outside, but when we got there it was inside on a treadmill,” Bailey said.

She agreed the experience was still a good one, as delegates to the Florida House and Senate could see the participants walking on the treadmill when they went to work. She got to meet Sen. Book, who also took a turn on the treadmill.

“There were a lot of adults and young people and several legislators who walked (including Gov. Ron DeSantis),” she said.

Bailey has no problem telling people she is an assault survivor. She understandably keeps the details private.

She hopes people learned more about the issue during Sexual Assault Awareness Week and that the message so many worked to spread can inspire others to come forward with their stories or help prevent assaults by shining a light on the problem.

“I’m not sure how serious some people take it,” she said. “It happens to a lot of girls, and they don’t know what to do.”

For Bailey, life goes on.

She has participated in Girl Scouts for 11 years and has made it the focus of her life.

“I have met a lot of girls, made new friends, but the main thing I like is being able to help others,” she said. “I have been given a lot of responsibility in the Girl Scouts of Gulf Coast organization. (The group runs from Manatee County south to Hardee and Collier counties).”

When she graduates in a couple of months, Bailey, who is dual enrolled at Lemon Bay and Charlotte Technical College, plans to continue seeking a degree in Early Childhood Development. She already interns at Englewood United Methodist Church by helping out four days a week in its preschool and learning program.

She has her whole life ahead of her. One bad memory will not interfere with her goals and dreams.

Pulitzer Prize winner John Hackworth is commentary editor of the Sun newspapers. You may contact him at jhackworth@sun-herald.com.

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