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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 1st, 2013
06:59 PM ET

Sexual assault survivor's advice to Cleveland women

Survivor Michelle Knight was the only one of Ariel Castro's three captives to confront him in court Thursday, but her testimony spoke for the brutality three women suffered at his hands.

"I cried every night. I was so alone. I worried about what would happen to me and the other girls every day. Days never got shorter. Days turned into nights, nights turned into days. Years turned into eternity," Knight said.

Giving that testimony was a powerful step, says victims' rights advocate Angela Rose, herself a survivor of sexual assault.

"Any time you can shatter the silence of sexual violence, [survivors] get to reclaim that sense of power," said Rose.

Rose was kidnapped, abducted when she was 17 years old from a mall outside Chicago before becoming an advocate.

Knight was able to stare her attacker down in court and be the one in control.

"It is very difficult to see your attacker in court, but to be able to look at that person and face the court and say, 'This Is what he did to me' – it absolutely helps to claim that sense of power," said Rose.

Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, the two other women held captive by Castro, chose not to confront him in court.

"This would be the first time they would have the opportunity to speak up without any threats, and they're still adjusting to being in an entirely different environment. Oftentimes individuals who confront their perpetrator will experience PTSD or
post-traumatic-like symptom," said forensic psychologist Dr. Renee Sorrentino.
"In this large arena, it doesn't always feel very supportive. It may just overall make the experience much more difficult than the gain they receive," said Sorrentino.

Former sex crimes prosecutor Allison Leotta advises victims of these crimes to confront their attackers.

"There are studies that show that confronting your attacker helps the healing process along the way. And I do think it's helpful both for the victim, and the community – and for the judge in sentencing and deciding what to do," said Leotta.

Perhaps one of the most poignant moments Thursday was hearing Sylvia Colon, a relative of Gina DeJesus, describe these women as survivors, not as victims.

"Today is the last day we want to think or talk about this. These events will not own a place in our thoughts or our hearts. We will continue to live and love. We stand before you, and promise you that our beloved family member cries, she laughs, she swims, she dances, and more importantly she loves, and she is loved," Colon said in court.

"She lives not as a victim but as a survivor. Her insurmountable will to prevail is the only story worth discussing," said Colon.

Talking in court, it appeared as though these women were finally able to assert strength in themselves. But the healing process has just begun.

"When you keep it inside and you don't speak about it, there are so many emotional aftermaths. We see a lot of cutting, a lot of eating disorders from survivors, we see a lot of alcohol and drug abuse," said Rose, who said the more people can "process it, talk about it," the better.

The families also have an important role to play, and have to create a safe place for the women, said Rose.

"I had an incredible support network. My grandmother called me a couple of days after I was Kidnapped and said, Angela, this happened to you for a reason and it changed the trajectory of my life and I went on to become an advocate," said Rose.

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