FARMINGTON — Amy Kay Bertholf knows what it means to be a sexual assault survivor.

And she uses that knowledge to help others struggling to understand how a violent event has changed their lives.

Twenty-two years ago, Bertholf was raped by a stranger who used a gun to force his way into her apartment.

Bertholf, 49, has served as a volunteer advocate since last October. She received training that allows her to act as an advocate and liaison for assault survivors.

Bertholf, an independent Mary Kay Cosmetics beauty consultant, said the fact that she has been through a sexual assault gives other survivors hope.

"The journey of healing is a long road. For me, it's a joyful journey, but it wasn't always joyful," she said. "It took a lot of people investing time, resources and professional skills to get me to where I am now, and that's what led me to become a sexual assault advocate."

Bertholf said she understands survivors not wanting to immediately report the crime, because she initially did not want to report her own rape.

"To this day, I cannot explain why I didn't want to report it," she said. "The first person I wanted to talk to was my mom, not to law enforcement."

After the rape, Bertholf tried to reach her mother, but her mother's phone was out of order. The operator connected her to law enforcement, and she reported the crime.

"I'm glad now that it was reported, but when this happens you're in shock, and you just want comfort," Bertholf said. "I think sometimes it just takes support in order for someone to decide to report (the crime)."

Bertholf said victims of sexual assault often blame themselves. And society generally reinforces that blame.

"I was asked all of the questions, like, "What were you wearing?'" she says, laughing. "I mean, I was in my home, and he came in with a gun! What does it matter what I was wearing? Yes, that attitude is still out there, and we need to put the responsibility back on the perpetrators of the crime. They are the ones responsible."

For that reason, Bertholf said agencies that offer a safe and supportive environment, like Sexual Assault Services, are crucial. Her main message to survivors of sexual assault is to be patient both with themselves and with the process.

"Until 15 years ago, I was trying to erase that incident from the history of my life. That doesn't work," she said. "Once I accepted that it was a part of my life, I began to figure out what it would take to make my life work. So yes, I have recently found peace, and I want to give (survivors) hope. But they really need to find that support system, and they need to be encouraged to not give up."

Leigh Black Irvin can be reached at lirvin@daily-times.com; 505-564-4610. Follow her on Twitter @irvindailytimes.