Campaign brings awareness to sexual assault prevention

Since 2001, April had been observed as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month during which annual campaigns are launched to raise public awareness about sexual assault educating communities.

Sexual harassment, assault and abuse can happen anywhere, including in online space. This year's campaign focuses on building a safe online space as individuals connect and interact in the digital world.

Per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexual violence refers to sexual activity when consent is not obtained or not freely given. Sexual violence impacts every community and affects people of all gender, sexual orientations and ages.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported there are approximately 321,500 rape and sexual assaults yearly of individuals ages 12 and older. Of those assaults, it is estimated only 32% are reported to law enforcement.

Echoing the findings of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, operating the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense and in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country, in 80% of cases, the victims knew or were related to the offender.

The latest data reported by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s (ALEA) Crime in Alabama, 1,890 rapes were reported to law enforcement. 79% of these rapes were committed by someone the victims knew and nearly 23% of these victims were between the ages of 13 and 16.

Family Services of North Alabama Executive Director Sherrie Hiett, who oversees both Marshall and DeKalb Counties said through the COVID-19 pandemic the agency continues to serve victims of sexual assault by providing counseling and therapy over the phone or via teletherapy.

“Though we never stopped working and providing services, we had to be creative with how we executed those services,” she said. “Advocates were available via Facetime or phone at the victim’s request. Thankfully, they have resumed with rape response and are now there to provide emotional support during forensic exams.”

Hiett said even with the challenges of 2020, their Parenthood Program, Internet Safety Program, Youth Suicide Prevention Program and the Sexual Assault Prevention Programs never stopped operating.

“We conducted lots of Zooms, communicated through phone and email and made several videos to post on social media,” she said. “We did a lot of FSNA Chit Chats on our Facebook page where we interviewed each program for an hour every Friday during lunch. This allowed us to communicate with our counties via social media and make [the public] aware that services were still available during the pandemic.”

Family Services of North Alabama is a rape crisis center serving DeKalb and Marshall Counties, empowering, advocating, teaching and providing advocacy for victims of sexual assault.

How often does sexual assault occur in the United States? Considered the following statistical numbers provided by RAINN:

• Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults only 310 are reported to the police

• 80,600 inmates were sexually assaulted or raped

• 60,000 children were victims of substantiated or indicated sexual abuse

• 433,648 Americans 12 and older were sexually assaulted or raped

• 18,900 military-experienced unwanted sexual contact

As reported by the National Crime Victimization Survey, an annual study conducted by the Justice Department, the majority of sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home and nine out of every 10 victims of rape are females.

It is estimated every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted and every nine minutes that the victim is a child and only five out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.

Research from CDC indicates nearly one in five women have experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime. One in three female rape victims experienced it for the first time between the ages of 11 and 17 and one in eight female rape victims reported that it occurred before age 10.

Research also concluded nearly one in 38 men have experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime. About one in four male rape victims experienced it for the first time between the ages of 11 and 17 and one in four male rape victims reported that it occurred before the age of 10.

As previously stated, this year's campaign is centered around building safe online spaces, encouraging people to learn how to practice digital consent, intervene when you see harmful content or behaviors and ensure that online spaces including workspaces, classrooms, social media platforms, amongst others are respectful and safe.

The National Service Violence Resource Center stated, online sexual abuse can be any type of sexual harassment, exploitation or abuse that takes place through screens. Consider the following forms of online sexual harassment or abuse:

• sending someone hateful or unwelcome comments based on sex

• sending unwanted requests to partners or strangers to send nude photos or videos or live stream sexual acts.

• performing sexual acts on webcam without the consent of everyone involved or in an inappropriate setting

• sharing private images or videos without the consent of everyone involved, also known as revenge porn, which is illegal

• sharing porn in spaces where everyone has not consented to view it

• grooming children to enable their sexual abuse either online or offline

Although these forms of sexual abuse take place behind a screen, NSVRC finding state the impact on the victims isn’t any less real. While some of these behaviors are crimes, particularly any that involve sexual abuse of children, others are just as harmful. Additionally, as images of abuse could be reshaped and recirculated on the internet, there is an added layer of revictimization.

For additional information visit the following websites, www.nsvrc.org, www.cdc.gov and www.alabamapublichealth.gov.

For a full list of programs and resources offered through Family Services of North Alabama, visit www.familyservicesna.org and for regular updates follow them on Facebook @FamilyServicesofNorthAlabama.

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