(NEW YORK) — Three weeks before Jennifer Shipe headed off to Penn State as an 18-year-old freshman, she was gang raped by five football players after a high school event.
Shipe was so traumatized that she had a car accident returning home from the party and never went to the police. In fact, for 12 years, she never told a soul, not even her parents.
“For six months, I couldn’t even say the word rape,” said Shipe, now 34 and a senior creative producer for Starbucks in Seattle. “I felt so ashamed. I completely shut down.”
Shipe found a way to escape her dark secret at the university, where she was a stellar student and graduated in 2000.
“Penn State saved me,” she said. “I worked my butt off to succeed and prove I was worth something.”
But when she learned assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had molested numerous young boys and for years no one had spoken out — it unearthed all the deep scars she had silently carried.
“When Sandusky’s story hit, it really rocked me,” said Shipe. “It was an unexpected trigger.”
She said the case opened her eyes and she not only sought counseling, but became an advocate for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
In October, Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison on 45 counts of sexual assault against young boys.
Since that highly publicized trial, advocates say attitudes toward sexual violence have changed — for the better. Visits to RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline are up 47 percent, and survivors like Shipe say they feel more sympathy and support.
RAINN now gets about 4,000 visits a month to its hotline from both men and women. And in the past year, supporters like Shipe have raised $548,000 to fund help for 13,047 survivors.
“The numbers are staggering,” said Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of RAINN. “One of the interesting things about the Sandusky case it that its half life was much longer than a typical story.”
“It really hit home with the public,” he said. “There was such a volume of evidence from the beginning that his guilt was pretty clear in people’s minds. And the victims were kids, so it resonated more.”
According to RAINN, one out of every six American women — more than 17 million — has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Men are also victims: one in 33 has experienced sexual assault.
Children are particularly vulnerable: 80 percent of all sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 30, but 15 percent under the age of 12. And in all categories and genders, most crimes go unreported.
Gregg Milligan survived rape and incest at the hands of his own mother. An alcoholic and a prostitute, she brought strange men home and invited them to abuse him.
The 49-year-old computer engineer from Michigan said the Sandusky case put violence against males into the limelight.
“In the past, [male victims] were very guarded,” he said. “It floors many to think about the unthinkable. Very few males speak out because they are under a veil of shame.”
“I know how difficult it is to come forward,” said Milligan, who has six living siblings and wrote the self-published memoir about his abuse and recovery, “A Beautiful World.”
“Even today, members of my own family have yet to admit the abuse took place and some have gone so far as to disown me,” he said. “That’s one of the many ugly truths about abuse — it has a very powerful ally, and that’s ignorance.”
He said institutions should be trained to identify and speak up when abuse is suspected. Laws must mandate reporting such crimes.
“And you have to do more than report it,” he said. “You keep telling someone until someone listens. It takes a collective effort to stop child abuse.”
As for Shipe, she said her memories came flooding back when she first learned about Sandusky’s arrest in December 2011.
“I remember sitting in my house watching Sports Center, the Saturday morning ritual of a Penn State fan,” she said. “I cannot even describe the range of emotions. When I saw him, I got physically ill.”
“To me, Penn State was a safe house,” she said. “The ironic thing is I met Sandusky at a banquet and he spoke about Second Mile. I remember thinking how altruistic he was.”
Second Mile was the charity Sandusky founded where he groomed many of his child victims. Some of Shipe’s friends had interned there.
Shipe said many survivors of sexual assault blame themselves or think no one will believe them.
“There was a pack mentality,” she said of her own rape. “It would have been my word against theirs. No one would have believed me — they would say, ‘She’s a slut, she asked for it. She was at a party, she should have known what she was getting into.'”
Shipe said she never told her family to “protect them” from scandal.
So she got an idea, the first step toward reclaiming her life. Shipe created a charity event, RAINN ‘Em In, The First Ever Human-Powered Horse Raise: a derby party for adults riding inflatable horses.
She has already raised $6,000 for survivors.
“How far have I come?” asked Shipe. “It’s taken over my life. In the last year, social media channels have quieted down and found other topics, but for survivors like me, the fight is on.”
She still has bad days where her memories of rape haunt her, but Shipe said she has found a cause and a network of support that have given her “better days.”
“So many people confide in me — people I work with who have close friends who are victims of child sex abuse, people who have been raped or close to being raped,” said Shipe. “I tell them, ‘You are my voice.'”
To learn more or get help, go to RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio