Sexual Assault Awareness Month: 'We need to advocate all the time'
Cameron Lane, 8, stands inside of a display at the Capitol Wednesday featuring hundreds of shoes meant to represent victims of sexual abuse, some of which were removed from victims by medical staffs, as they were being checked for abuse.
Cameron Lane, 8, stands with Onelia Perkins, 18, and her daughter Paisleigh, 4, with the Bikers Against Child Abuse Wednesday during an unveiling of a display at the Capitol featuring of hundreds of shoes meant to represent victims of sexual abuse. Onelia herself was a victim of sexual abuse from her step-father that left her pregnant with her daughter.
It was organized by Florida Council Against Sexual Violence and Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit started by the Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book, a victim of sexual assault herself when she was a child who now is an advocate who aims to help others heal and to educate the community about abuse.
The tiniest shoe belonged to a young survivor, and oldest shoe belonged to a grandmother who wanted to share her story for the first time, Book said.
In Florida, one in six women have been raped at some point in their lives, FCASV reports. And about 20% of men in Florida have experienced sexual violence other than rape.
There were 10,732 sexual offenses reported in Florida in 2015, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Florida Statistical Analysis Center uniform crime report. Only 4,730 sexual offense arrests were made in that same year.
Many of the shoes at Walk in My Shoes come from victims cared for by Tallahassee’s domestic violence and sexual assault crisis relief center, Refuge House. The center responded to 1,189 cases of sexual violence from 2015 to 2016.
A small child's shoe rests on the floor of the Capitol rotunda Wednesday, where a display has been set up to represent Florida's sexual abuse victims. Some of the hundreds of shoes were removed from victims by medical staffs, as they were being checked for abuse.
Since 2008, the center has advocated for more than 900 victims that then received medical/forensic exams. Recently, Refuge House opened SAFE Center, a stand-alone clinic for sexual assault victims. Last year, 267 sexual assault kits in Leon County went untested.
Despite there being many people affected by this, said Meg Baldwin, Refuge House executive director, “each and every victim feels so alone when it happens to her or him.”
That’s why Refuge House is holding “Me Too” this Thursday as a day of action against sexual assault and to support those who were affected by it, to “show support for survivors and show the strength of our numbers.” Survivors are encouraged to come share stories with each other and listen to keynote speaker, FAMU mental health counselor Dougla-Khan Stancil.
"We've seen the power of survivors standing together so vividly,” Baldwin said.
She said many of these assaults can begin by stalking and isolating a victim. While Refuge House's services mainly are there to help people who've already experienced assault, "our mission really is to stop sexual assault from happening in the first place," she said.
Especially on college campuses. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports that women 18 to 24 who are college students are three times more likely than other women to experience sexual violence.
Refuge House is working with Florida State University and Florida A&M University to implement Green Dot, a training program that educates community members on how to spot potential sexual assault for "bystander intervention."
FSU reports there are six current open investigations of alleged violations of the university's sexual misconduct policy handled by its Title IX office. Four of the cases were opened this year, and two were opened last year. On April 11, a Georgia man was arrested on campus in connection with a sexual assault reported by a female FSU student who said she was sexually assaulted in her dorm after he accompanied her from a bar.
To those who've had a loved one confide in him or her about an assault, Baldwin emphasizes the importance of deeply listening to the victim.
"Listen, offer her encouragement, let her know that she didn't deserve to have this happen to her," she said, "that it wasn't her fault, and then listen to what she wants to do if anything in the aftermath of the attack."
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