UCO holds events to bring awareness to Sexual Assault Awareness Month 

click to enlarge OKC Police Captain Juan "Paco" Balderrama poses for a photo in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, April 15, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • OKC Police Captain Juan "Paco" Balderrama poses for a photo in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, April 15, 2015.

The first line of defense when it comes to sexual assault begins with education and awareness. Oklahoma City is awareness-strong, supporting the national campaign Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).

All states within the U.S. prohibit sexual assault, unwanted sexual touching to attempted rape and rape. In the U.S., the definition of sexual assault varies widely between individual states.

SAAM has its origins in 1970 England, where women gathered in Take Back the Night marches with a focus on nighttime safety. In 1978 and 1979, women in San Francisco and New York City held similar marches, and subsequent events over the decades in the U.S. evolved into SAAM, which is observed every April.

Every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. Oklahoma ranks sixth in the nation for reported rapes per capita.

click to enlarge Karla Docter, Senior Director of Sexual Assault Services, poses for a photo at the YWCA in Oklahoma CIty, Wednesday, April 15, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Karla Docter, Senior Director of Sexual Assault Services, poses for a photo at the YWCA in Oklahoma CIty, Wednesday, April 15, 2015.

“According to a national survey, 48 percent of women have experienced sexual assault in Oklahoma,” said Karla Docter, senior director of Sexual Assault Services at YWCA Oklahoma City. “The number of cases we see are unfortunately increasing over time.”

YWCA is a certified provider of sexual assault crisis services to Oklahoma County, and in 2014, the YWCA crisis hotlines received 829 sexual assault calls. The center provides crisis intervention, danger assessment, safety planning, support, reassurance, validation and resources to sexual assault victims in the area.

The existing statistics underestimate the occurrence of sexual assault because many victims often do not come forward and alert police, family or friends.

“Last year, we had 773 cases of sexual assault reported here in Oklahoma City,” said Oklahoma City Police Capt. Paco Balderrama. “There are an estimated 60 percent of unreported cases on top of that. Victims don’t report sexual assault for various reasons. They may be embarrassed, they may feel guilty for thinking they caused the rape, they worry about the negative outcome and so on.”

The police participate in the Start by Believing campaign initiated by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI).

“Our response to the victims is that we want to believe, be open-minded and appropriate. We ‘start by believing’ to never question the victim’s actions, behavior or second-guess why they were in that situation, so as to not re-traumatize them by disbelieving,” Balderrama said. “We start by listening to the victim.”

Trauma, of course, doesn’t stop at the sexual assault. Routines of everyday life, normal activities, such as grocery shopping, going to work, school, or attending social activities, will feel threatening. Be ready to listen to the victim. Friends and families need to be supportive as a daily routine and be mindful of long-term emotional effects.

Studies have shown that rape victims are six times more likely to develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), three times more likely to become depressed, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol and four times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Sexual assault also often results in financial concerns; the victim might not be compensated for work lost during legal activities, medical treatment, trial or even moving residence for safety.

“As the numbers are increasing throughout the state, the statistics reflect more people are starting to feel more comfortable coming forward and changing the societal attitudes, where they can talk about this issue,” Docter said.

Print Headline: Faithful awareness, The University of Central Oklahoma hosts educational events during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

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