Raising awareness of sexual assault and child abuse
All too often, news stories about sexual assault, particularly crimes against juveniles, reveal predatory behavior starting with an online encounter. So it is fitting that this year’s theme of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “Building safe online space together.”
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is time set aside by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to draw attention to sex assaults both as a way to support victims and to prevent attacks on the vulnerable.
According to NSVRC, 1 in 5 women in the U.S. experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime, and nearly 25% of men in the U.S. experience some form of sexual violence. A sexual assault occurs every 68 seconds in this country, and every nine minutes, the victim is a child, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. According to RAINN, the majority of assaults go unreported.
“Sexual assault is endemic in our society. But prevention is possible,” states the Victim Services Center of Montgomery County website. “Join us during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and learn how you can support survivors in our community.” The county organization is conducting virtual workshops this month on topics related to identifying and preventing assault.
In Berks County, the message promoted by SafeBerks is “There is hope” and “You are not alone.”
Francine M. Scoboria, communications coordinator, noted 250 pinwheels planted in the ground “symbolize local victims of sexual assault.” Pinwheels are often associated with hope and the innocence of childhood, she said.
“We want survivors of sexual assault to know they did nothing to deserve this,” Scoboria said. “No one can take away their innocence and hope.”
“Sexual Assault Awareness Month is our time to focus the attention on the prevalence of sexual assault, honor the voices and experiences of the survivors, and equip our community with tips and resources they can use to support these survivors,” said Delio Santana, manager of education and outreach programs.
“For anybody who is experiencing any type of sexual violence, we believe you. We’re here if you want help,” said Beth Garrigan, CEO of Safe Berks.
Safe Berks is hosting educational webinars in English and Spanish on topics including digital concerns and sexual assault issues in the LGBTQ+ and Latino communities. The webinars will be on the Safe Berks Facebook page.
Pinwheels were also the medium to give a message of support in East Norriton where Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center planted a display at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s King of Prussia Campus.
The pinwheels also recognize National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which coincides with the assault support.
In 2021, Mission Kids served 1,026 suspected victims of child abuse and their families by providing a collaborative team response to cases involving suspected abuse. “The need for awareness is more important than ever,” said Leslie Slingsby, Executive Director of Mission Kids.
Ten to twenty percent of children will experience child sexual abuse before their 18th birthdays. Ninety percent of the time, children experience abuse at the hands of someone they know and often someone their families trust, she said.
Over the past two years, children were isolated at home due to the pandemic, which meant that they didn’t have regular contact with mandated reporters — people like teachers, coaches, and counselors, who could be that child’s life line.
The prevalence of child abuse and sex assault can be lost amid the other crushing worries of our times. But they are problems each of us can do something about by looking for warning signs of abuse and reporting concerns to authorities and then supporting the victims. In contrast to the carefree symbol of pinwheels, sexual abuse against children is dark and destructive. It’s up to everyone to notice, report and support those who suffer this horrific reality.