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Guest column: Awareness of sexual assault is 1st step to preventing it
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Rape Response Inc.

P.O. Box 2883, Gainesville, GA 30503, 770-503-7273  

Every two minutes, someone in America is sexually assaulted. Statistics like this represent alarming realities that I've come to know in my first year as executive director for Rape Response.

Our board of directors, staff and volunteer advocates are dedicated to increasing public awareness about the impact, trends and issues associated with sexual assault and rape. The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the United States.

Sexual violence occurs whenever a person is forced, coerced or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity, including when she or he is unable to consent due to age, illness, disability or the influence of alcohol or other drugs. It is a crime predominantly motivated by the desire to control, humiliate and harm. It is not about sex or passion. In 73 percent of sexual assault crimes, the offender is an acquaintance or intimate partner.

For nearly 23 years, Rape Response has carried out a mission to serve as a system of support, advocacy and education to the community and survivors of sexual assault. Services are free and confidential with a primary service area that includes Dawson, Habersham, Hall, Lumpkin and White counties. We are proud to be a partner agency for United Ways in each of those counties.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, our volunteer and staff advocates are available with caring, nonjudgmental and compassionate response on the crisis hotline and in local emergency rooms. When follow-up is requested, our two part-time staff advocates provide crisis intervention that respects the unique needs, personal decisions and dignity of each person served. Services requested by survivors may include information and referral for immediate needs or opportunities, accompaniment and support throughout the law enforcement investigation and court process, referral for follow-up health exams, as well as referrals to licensed counselors.

Another critical role for Rape Response is to promote networking and effective lines of communication with Sexual Assault Response Teams that include law enforcement, medical, prosecutorial, criminal justice and other social service agencies essential to victim services. Professionals work together with trust, respect and motivation to respect victims and use best practices in their services. This team effort produces an end result with better treatment of the victims and more successful prosecutions of the offenders.

According to the Department of Justice, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the United States reported experiencing an attempted or completed rape at some time in their lives and 20 to 25 percent of college women experienced attempted or completed rape during their college career. Results of a nationwide survey by the Center for Disease Control indicate that 8 percent of high school students report having been forced to have sex.

These numbers underestimate the problem. Many cases are not reported because victims are afraid to tell the police, friends or family about the abuse. Victims think their stories will not be believed. They may have been threatened with further harm if they tell.

Emotions related to the trauma of sexual assault and rape can include shock, embarrassment, shame, guilt, powerlessness, fear, anxiety and anger. Worries about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy add stress for the victim.

The website of RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, reports that ages 12-34 are the highest risk years and that girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. The reality is that 93 percent of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker. Rape Response is committed to prevention education to reduce those alarming statistics.

When funding is available, our agency offers a Date Rape Curriculum for eighth-grade students with parental permission. Factual information is presented to address the myths and misconceptions about sexual assault. They learn about the crime of rape and have discussions about healthy dating behavior and safe decisions.

Sexual violence is a significant problem in the United States. We hope to raise public awareness and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. Often sexual violence is ignored, excused, condoned and even encouraged.

We must acknowledge and change these norms if we are to make major strides in prevention. In addition to holding individual perpetrators accountable and providing quality services for victims, citizens and community leaders need to promote respect, safety, equality, healthy relationships and sexuality. Visit current topics for prevention information.

Jeanne Buffington is Executive Director of Rape Response Inc.,