The Community Connection
Sexual Assault Awareness Month programs offered in April
Events take online focus this year amid COVID-19 pandemic
NORRISTOWN » Recognizing April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Victim Services Center of Montgomery County has a slate of virtual events all month long.
“For me, the most important part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I think, is to provide our residents of our community really crucial education, but also to remind them that there’s a free center that can offer services to victims and significant others at no cost,” said Erin Milbourne, direct services supervisor for the Norristown-based nonprofit.
Jessica Carson, community education supervisor for Victim Services Center of Montgomery County, organized this month’s programming, which aimed to start a dialogue and assist survivors.
Each Thursday, the center will be offering 30-minute online forums with opportunities for question and answer sessions, as well as information about sexual assault, consent and harassment,
Additionally, the agency will give an overview about the programs and services provided.
“Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual content without the person’s consent,” Carson said.
The Victim Services Center of Montgomery County opened in 1974 initially as a rape crisis center hotline, according to Carson, who added the organization expanded to provide counseling, advocacy aid and educational tools for victims and loved ones.
People can call the hotline at 1-888-521-0983 24-hoursa-day, seven-days-per-week,
“Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual content without the person’s consent.” — Jessica Carson, Community education supervisor for Victim Services Center of Montgomery County
to talk through a situation, and get more information about medical and law enforcement options.
Milbourne and Carson added the center will often get referrals from Montgomery County hospitals and school counselors.
With respect to advocacy, Montgomery County residents seeking assistance can learn more about navigating “the criminal justice process,” filing a “police report” and overall next steps “so they can get their power and control back,” Carson said.
As for counseling and therapeutic services, Milbourne said people will come from across the region including parts of Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
The Victim Services Center of Montgomery County serves an average of 2,225 to 2,250 clients each year, according to Carson, who said that about half are victims of sexual assault.
Carson added that “we do see children as young as 4 [years old]” come to the Norristown organization, located on the second floor of 325 Swede St., and clients span all backgrounds of race, age and socioeconomic status.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Carson recalled how the public health crisis has impacted the way the organization reached out to the community in a traditional sense.
Instead of holding inperson programming events during Sexual Assault Awareness Month last April, Carson noted how the center had to pivot and rely on social media, Zoom and other online platforms.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carson asked herself: “What can we provide online and continue that conversation that way?”
She said her team have since “gotten acquainted with Zoom” and other technological “tools in order to present information.” Carson’s also looking to start using YouTube to “record webinars” and create “playlist” on the video sharing platform.
As for other methods of outreach, the center offered “virtual readings online with publisher permission,” which Carson said has been “successful.”
Additionally, Carson said that Victim Services Center of Montgomery County also plans to join forces with area libraries to promote upcoming events.
For more information, visit the organization’s website at www.victimservicescenter.org.