The Safe Relationships Division of Family Services, Inc. has joined Ending Violence Against Women International in its “Start by Believing” public awareness campaign to address sexual assault.
The awareness campaign focuses on the personal and public response to claims of sexual assault. A friend or family member is typically the first person a victim confides in after an assault, and each person’s reaction is the first step in a long path toward justice and healing. Knowing how to respond is critical– a negative response can worsen the trauma and foster an environment where sexual assault predators face zero consequences for their crimes.
Research documents that rapists attack an average of six times, which means that one failed response can equal five more victims. “Start by Believing” attempts to break this cycle by creating a positive community response, informing the public, uniting allies and supporters, and improving our personal reactions. The goal is to change our community and outcomes for victims, one response at a time.
“The trauma associated with sexual assault is life altering. However, healing is possible and it begins with how we interact with victims as friends, family members and first responders. Victims need compassionate, non-judgmental support,” said DeWanna Hamlin, coordinator of Prevention and Education for Family Services’ Safe Relationships Division, which addresses domestic violence.
The goal of Family Services’ “Start by Believing” campaign, which will run through the end of April (Sexual Assault Awareness Month), is to educate the community about the importance of the appropriate response to sexual assault. In light of the Steubenville, Ohio rape case verdict, it is clear that education is key to understanding the complexities of rape and sexual assault.
Family Services hopes to have “1,000 Believers” take a pledge to believe victims when they share their experiences of rape and sexual assault. Members of the community can sign on to be a believer at the Family Services web site: fsifamily.org. They may pledge virtually or stop by the office to sign a believer card. One believer will win a gift card worth $50 to a local business.
“Our sisters, partners, friends, co-workers, daughters and brothers are counting on us to be that person they can turn to in this type of crisis,” said Hamlin. “We are asking our community to start by believing.”