Social Entrepreneur + Founder of Sunlight Retreats on Needed Social Innovation in Sexual Assault Survivor Support

Sexual Assault Social Entrepreneur Brittany Catton Kirk

“I became a social entrepreneur after I was attacked and realized how little programming there is for rape survivors beyond hotlines. I wanted to build a safe place for survivors to go and jumpstart their healing, so they do not suffer for years like I did.” - Brittany Catton Kirk

The Facts:

One in four women and one in twenty-one men will be raped at some point in their lives. The cost and impact of rape costs approximately $151,423 and costs the US annually ($127 billion) more than any other crime. 94 percent of women report PTSD two weeks after the rape and 33% contemplate suicide. 

The Problem:

There currently are no ongoing therapeutic trauma retreats for rape survivors. Rape and sexual assault have been occurring in unacceptable numbers for thousands of years. The pervasive issue of rape continues to plague college campuses with few signs of abatement. We know that survivors struggle with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, PTSD, and suicide. The fallout from rape can be lifelong, and it can severely impact both the physical and mental health of the survivors and their families. Individual counseling is the primary solution for treatment of rape survivors. But this treatment is limited to victims that have health insurance, funds, and time for weekly treatments. Therapy is an important tool but can be expensive, and it does not broaden a survivor’s support network. It can also be hard to schedule and find a therapist that is trained in sexual trauma. Rape support groups are sparse and often limited by zip codes and red tape. Rehab is another option, but rehab is coed and designed for those with substance abuse, not PTSD.  Few victims can afford to leave their families and jobs for 30 days at the cost of $30K. There is no safe place for rape survivors to go and heal from trauma with access to clinically proven services to treat PTSD with their peers. There is no accelerator that helps survivors jumpstart their healing with tools, education and a network of fellow survivors to feel less alone. There is no place where they can discreetly getaway for a long weekend and be removed from everyday distractions so that they can focus exclusively on their own healing. So now that we know the scope of the #MeToo and the suffering that 1 in 4 women will deal with and 1 in 21 men, what will be done to help them recover? An anonymous hotline is not the solution. Retelling your story can be difficult or even traumatizing, with little incentive without services or individuals you can continue to turn to.

We have to make survivors feel less alone, heard and empowered. Often survivors are too traumatized and struggling to function after their attack to research and arrange multiple appointments to start the healing journey, especially if they have families or careers. The search and scheduling of services can be overwhelming and discouraging. There needs to be a changemaking program that gives survivors a better way to heal, so that they can rebuild and empower others.

A Social Innovation:

I developed a program called “Sunlight Retreats” based on an anonymous survey that over 150 survivors filled out (sexual assault survivor survey) which is a new model of healing for survivors of rape. Traditional outlets like rehab and individual therapy can be cost prohibitive and fail to address the unique issues which include PTSD, anxiety, depression, body image and self-esteem issues. Sunlight is unique in that it is an accelerator for healing, where many services are available for survivors to sample and experiment with in an intensive 3-4 day retreat. In a peaceful, beautiful setting, it allows survivors to be removed from the pressures of family and work and enables them to focus exclusively on their own healing with other survivors. Sunlight Retreats also educates survivors on the science of trauma and how to grow beyond trauma, with interactive workshops with sexual trauma psychologist Dr. Shiva Ghaed. This education helps survivors understand their reactions are often normal and how to counteract them in a healthy manner.  Survivors can experience programs like acupuncture, restorative yoga, healthy cooking, self-defense, service animals and NET Therapy to see what works best for them. These services are free of charge and organized for them by volunteers, which greatly reduces financial stress to those overwhelmed by depression, anxiety and PTSD. Success stories include survivors going back to nursing school, advancing in the military and leaving a domestic abuser, and fulfilling their dream of becoming a flight attendant. One young survivor even decided to report her rape to police. They, like me, were once closeted about their attack and were harboring a lot of shame and pain.  After the retreat, they now know PTSD does not have to be permanent, and survivors do not have to feel shame and guilt about their attack. Survey results and testimonials from the 40 individuals who have participated in the Sunlight Retreats confirm the absolute need and value of this program. I am grateful to be able to fill the gap and create a new model of support that can be scaled worldwide to combat the scourge of sexual trauma. I am proud to say that 100 percent of anonymous surveys reported that they would recommend Sunlight Retreats to a fellow survivor, 100 percent said it aided them in their healing, and 100 percent said Sunlight Retreats made them stronger. It is motivation to increase the number of volunteer run, at-cost retreats each year, and I am excited to meet the challenge, with a very special group of contributors and volunteers.

What’s Next:

 My goal is to scale support to other populations at risk for sexual violence. I created an interest list for a sunlight retreat focused on male survivors, a population which is often overlooked and faces unique stigmas. I would like expand my outreach to high risk groups for sexual assault, including Native Americans, college students, female active-duty members and LGBTQ populations. I plan to scale Sunlight Retreats to major cities nationwide and bring a retreat to Canada where many of the Yazidi women from Iraq have been resettled after experiencing genocide and sexual slavery but are offered little to no trauma support to help rebuild. From there I hope to expand to other countries with high rape statistics like South Africa, Sweden, the UK, and India.

In order to grow and expand, I applied and was accepted into the Kroc School’s Masters of Social Innovation at the University of San Diego for 2019-2020. With the Masters in Social Innovation, I expect to learn how to build a sustainable business model that will help me scale Sunlight Retreats to other cities and countries and become self-sustaining as a social enterprise. I plan to set up a hard business model with various income streams and channels to support survivors with financial need while helping as many survivors as possible. With the skills I learn in this program, I can scale and extend healing empowerment to an even greater number of the estimated 21 million female and male rape survivors in the US and eventually bring this beacon of light worldwide.


Eight months pregnant Sunlight Retreats Founder Brittany Catton Kirk with Love on a Leash Central San Diego Chapter volunteers at the August 2018 Sunlight Retreat for Survivors

Eight months pregnant Sunlight Retreats Founder Brittany Catton Kirk with Love on a Leash Central San Diego Chapter volunteers at the August 2018 Sunlight Retreat for Survivors

Brittany Catton Kirk