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Attendees at the 2018 Sunlight Retreats for rape survivors, held in an undisclosed location in San Diego, received help and support during a weekend of healing. Applications for the 2019 retreat open on March 15. Courtesy photo

Attendees at the 2018 Sunlight Retreats for rape survivors, held in an undisclosed location in San Diego, received help and support during a weekend of healing. Applications for the 2019 retreat open on March 15. Courtesy photo


MARCH 14, 2019

San Diego Union Tribune Link

The photo Michele keeps to remind her of the life-changing weekend she spent at last summer’s Sunlight Retreats for rape survivors shows her standing arm-and-arm with her fellow attendees. She can’t see their faces because the photo was taken from the back. But she can feel the love and support that radiates from hand to hand and from life to life. “For me, that photo shows the amount of trust we had and how well we bonded over just three days,” said Michele, a nurse who suffered from PTSD after years of sexual abuse. “I keep that picture as a reminder of the support I received there. It really was like getting over a year of therapy in a three-day weekend.”

The third edition of the Sunlight Retreats weekend for rape survivors has been expanded from three days to four. It will be held Aug. 22-25 at a private residence in San Diego. As it has in previous years, the retreat will give rape survivors a full slate of mental, physical and emotional-support activities in a soothing setting. With the help of donations and the contribution of professionals who are offering their services on a volunteer basis, the cost for the weekend is $300, which includes meals, snacks, liability and overnight accommodations. The cost for survivors who won’t be spending the night is $250. Online applications for the retreat — which can take 25 overnight attendees and an additional 20 day visitors — will be open from March 15 through April 15. The applications are available on Sunlight Retreats was founded in 2017 by rape survivor Brittany Catton Kirk of San Diego, who was inspired by her weekend at a YMCA women’s retreat to create a healing experience for fellow survivors still struggling to deal with the fallout from their assaults.

The first retreat was held here in January of 2018. It was a two-day session that included visits by therapy dogs, multiple workshops with trauma specialist Dr. Shiva Ghaed, acupuncture treatments and classes in yoga, self-defense and healthy cooking. The second retreat was held seven months later. It ran three days instead of two and, in response to feedback from earlier participants, included extra sessions with the Love on a Leash therapy dogs. The 2019 retreat will be much like its predecessors. Dr. Ghaed will lead multiple sessions exploring how traumatic experiences change the way your brain works and what you can do about destructive thought patterns that can derail your life. Nutritionist Erica Fowler will talk about the care and feeding of the stressed and anxious body. Stehly Farms will be providing healthy meals and licensed clinical acupuncturist Catherine Austin will be returning for her third Sunlight Retreats stint. The popular Love on a Leash dogs will now be part of the welcoming committee, which Kirk hopes will make the attendees feel comfortable from the moment they walk onto the grounds. Now that it has been expanded from three days to four, the 2019 retreat is also giving its survivors the added benefit of more time. That means more free time between sessions so attendees can process what they’ve learned and more time to absorb the feeling of peace, support and safety that survivors desperately need but aren’t always able to get. “It is really important to make survivors feel safe and comfortable so they can open up. It can take awhile for them to really understand that they can trust you and that you care about them,” Kirk said. “It is such an exhausting experience to process your rape and to deal with the trauma that a nice, relaxing setting helps offset some of that unpleasantness. It makes it easier to write in your journal and work on your workbooks do what you need to do.”

The extra day also gives survivors more time to get to know each other. After the retreat, the survivors can continue to communicate through a private online page, which provides an instant support network to help them survive and thrive outside the comfort of the retreat bubble. The Sunlight Retreats only last a few days, but when survivors carry the torch with them, they help each other keep the darkness at bay. “The retreat was a place of intense healing. This was a group of women that had similar histories where they understood each other from their past assaults. It was a place where you could just freely open up and not be ashamed and embarrassed about the history you had,” said Michele, who came to last summer’s retreat after spiraling into a depression so severe, she hadn’t worked in 19 months. “I have absolutely kept in touch with the other women. We have an online forum and we talk. Sometimes daily, sometimes monthly. I credit the retreat with a lot of my healing and with my success in returning to work and doing well. I know I’m not ever going back to that place of depression.”

Founder Brittany Catton Kirk enjoys some pet therapy during Sunlight Retreats' first retreat for rape survivors, held in San Diego in January of 2018. A second retreat is scheduled for Aug. 24-26, 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Founder Brittany Catton Kirk enjoys some pet therapy during Sunlight Retreats' first retreat for rape survivors, held in San Diego in January of 2018. A second retreat is scheduled for Aug. 24-26, 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Column | For rape survivors, one weekend can change everything

By Karla Peterson, The San Diego Union Tribune

Article Link

JULY 25, 2018, 2:25 PM

In many ways, San Diego’s first Sunlight Retreats session looked like any other women’s getaway weekend. It was held in a bucolic setting. There were yoga classes and acupuncture treatments. There were lessons in healthy cooking.

There were also visits by therapy dogs. And multiple workshops with trauma specialist Dr. Shiva Ghaed. And classes in self-defense.

 In fact, the first Sunlight Retreats weekend — held in January in an undisclosed location — was not like anything its 15 attendees had ever experienced before. The retreat was designed for rape survivors by a rape survivor, and the goal was to jump-start a healing process that founder Brittany Catton Kirk knew from experience could be a long time in coming.

“I feel like I was swimming in quicksand for the first year or two after the rape,” Kirk said of her assault, which happened in 2012. “My progress was slow. I gained 60 pounds in one year. I couldn’t leave the house. I was just shutting down.

“You hear about these tech start-up environments where people can come together and grow their ideas in a much more accelerated way, and that is what my hope and goal for Sunlight Retreats is. You can experience all sorts of services right here. We jump-start things so people don’t feel stuck in their PTSD and where they’re at.” Kirk came up with the idea after attending a YMCA women’s retreat in Maryland.

As great as it was to get away from the stresses of everyday life, Kirk was finding there was no getting away from the trauma of her assault. But what if you combined the serenity and togetherness of a weekend retreat with a full-immersion healing experience?

It seemed like the thing Kirk herself was looking for. And if she was looking for it, surely other survivors would be looking for it, too. On Aug. 3, 2017 — five years to the day after she was raped — Kirk posted an interest list on Facebook to see if she was right.

She was.

“I think without the retreat, I would have felt alone, like, forever,” said Aly, a former San Diegan who attended January’s event. “To be surrounded by people who get it, that helped me get it. I feel like I can actually move on with my life. I have never felt the same since that retreat.”

Because of lodging limitations, the first Sunlight Retreat was limited to 15 attendees. The at-cost fee was $250 for the weekend, which covered food, lodging, insurance and liability, and workshops and training sessions. It was such a success, Kirk has organized another one.

The second Sunlight Retreat will be held Aug. 24 through 26 at a private home in San Diego County. While the August retreat runs three days instead of two, the fee is still $250. The overnight slots have been filled, but there is still room for a small group of day visitors at a discounted rate.

Scholarships are available. Kirk has also opened up an interest list on her website for a male-only retreat. As with the retreats for women, trans and non-binary participants are welcome.

The August retreat will be a lot like the January retreat. There will be restorative yoga, acupuncture and classes in cooking for PTSD, depression and anxiety, all provided by practitioners who are volunteering their time. Dr. Ghaed, a San Diego-based clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and anxiety disorders, will talk about the science of trauma and how to start the recovery process.

There will be tears and laughter and a-ha moments. Thanks to feedback from earlier participants, there will be an extra session with the therapy dogs from Love on a Leash, San Diego Central Chapter. And there will be breakthroughs. Lots and lots of breakthroughs.

“For me, when Dr. Shiva talked about the patterns of behavior that survivors have, that really struck me,” said Aly, who said she found her dream job and got back into working out and volunteering after the retreat.

“I did all of the things she discussed. Things like throwing away all of my clothes. Crazy things that I laugh at now. I felt like I had all of these strange things that I was doing, and having her confirm to us that all of these things are normal, that was the most eye-opening thing. It changed my life.”

When she founded Sunlight Retreats, Kirk was hoping some transformative stories would result. She wasn’t expecting to be one of them. It’s a bonus she didn’t see coming, and yes, it changed everything. “I felt like I was doomed to suffer for the rest of my life, and I don’t feel that way anymore,” Kirk said. “If we don’t do anything with the pain, then it is just wasted pain. I think trying to make something positive out of it will help us all.”

For information on Sunlight Retreats, go to


programs and services for rape victims and survivors

Rape survivors retreat offers support and healing

By Karla Peterson

Article Link

JANUARY 19, 2018, 2:00 PM

The inaugural Sunlight Retreat for Survivors of Rape will be held Jan. 27-28 in a private location in San Diego. The weekend retreat will feature talks with local clinical psychologist and trauma specialist Shiva Ghaed, who will discuss overcoming triggers, stopping bad thoughts and understanding post-traumatic stress disorder. The retreat will also include hands-on training in self defense, restorative yoga and therapeutic cooking for PTSD, anxiety and depression. The fee for the retreat is $250 for the weekend, which covers food, lodging, talks and training sessions, and insurance and liability. It is open to female survivors who are 18 years old or older. Trans women and nonbinary people are welcome. If the overnight slots fill up, daytime slots will be available.

The Sunlight Retreat for Survivors of Rape is being organized by San Diegan Britany Catton Kirk, a rape survivor who needed a place to heal and get treatment, only to find that the kind of place she was looking for didn’t seem to exist. “About a year after I was raped, I happened to sign up for a YMCA women’s retreat in Maryland. It had nothing to do with sexual assault, but I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be incredible if sexual-assault survivors could get away from their jobs and their kids and focus on healing and maybe make some friends?’ That’s what we are hoping to do,” Kirk said. Kirk also hopes this retreat will be the first of many. She plans to do at least one more San Diego retreat this year, and she would like to offer them in other cities as well. For information or to sign up, go to or


DR GHAED rape trauma doctor

Get to know Dr.Shiva Ghaed

DR. SHIVA GHAED has been featured on NPR,KPBS, FOX,The LA Times,Vice News,People Magazine and more. Check out some media clips below to see the important volunteer work she is doing with Sunlight Retreats and the Route 91 communities to help trauma survivors heal.





San Diego Union Tribune



Country Rebel

Comfort Cub Organization

San Diego Union Tribune & LA Times


KBPS (2 parts aired on 02-03Apr2018)

San Diego District Attorney's Office

Annual Citizens of Courage Awards - honored on 10Apr2018

American Red Cross - Metro North (Red & White Ball) - Salute to Service and Valor, National Hero Award (to be honored on 28Apr2018)

San Diego Union Tribune (Note: The next retreat will take place in Aug 2018)

(story starts at 4:45 approx into the one-year news report)

Preview YouTube video 10News at 6pm Top Stories

10News at 6pm Top Stories

Preview YouTube video Comfort Cub Route 91

Comfort Cub Route 91

Preview YouTube video Vegas Massacre survivors hold local therapy group

Vegas Massacre survivors hold local therapy group

Channel 10 News

Channel 8 News

KSON (radio)

VICE News – Joelle Martinez

NPR – Eric Westervelt (SF studio)

VenuesNow magazine – Brad Weissberg

Fox LA – Hal Eisner

San Diego Union Tribune – Alex Riggins

People Magazine – Chris Harris (Investigative Crime Reporter)

Channel 7 News – Liberty Zabala

Oct 1

Sep 30

Incahoots 1-year gathering

Fox 5 (also working on obtaining this clip…I heard it was nicely done but haven’t found it yet – contacted the station)

Channel 11

Channel 7


Upcoming scheduled events:

Panelist (PTSD and trauma subject matter expert) at annual conference for National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (Dec 6-9, 2018)

Keynote Speaker (PTSD and trauma subject matter expert) at annual conference for Florida Association of Private Investigators (Feb 20-24, 2019)