By: Cassidy Tyrone
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. What you learn this month may help protect someone close to you through prevention education or by increasing awareness of services available locally for anyone who is a victim of sexual violence.
At a conservative estimate, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped during their lifetime – 91 percent of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female; 9 percent are male. In 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults, the victim knew the person who assaulted them; 63 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police.
“It’s a much bigger problem than people think it is,” says Copelan Gammon, an education and outreach specialist for the Sexual Assault Resource Center.
SARC’s mission is two-fold: to be there for survivors of assault, and to lower the statistics of who is victimized by sexual violence through outreach and education.
The services available through SARC for those who have been affected by sexual assault are free, confidential, and nondiscriminatory, says Gammon. SARC aims to provide a safe zone for all survivors of sexual violence.
In addition to providing a range of support services after an assault, an important focus for SARC is providing education aimed at the prevention of sexual violence before it happens, says Gammon. SARC’s education curriculum can be customized to any age group, from elementary to college students, and also for training in professional settings. Presentations can cover a variety of topics from gender stereotypes and bullying to dating violence and consent, says Gammon.
The primary prevention program addresses issues such as sexism, racism, and homophobia that all perpetuate negative attitudes and create environments conducive to violence.
In one exercise, school-aged children are presented with a myth and fact board. Children are asked to determine whether statements are myths – “Girls are biologically predisposed to grow longer hair” – and fact – “Middle school, high school, and college-age women experience a higher rate of rape than any other group.” The intent, Gammon says, is to get kids talking and thinking about these issues.
“It’s not always easy because they don’t always want us there,” Gammon says of some parents and schools. “Sexual assault is an uncomfortable topic for many people.”
Colin Kourthauer, education and outreach specialist for SARC, says there is a need to teach kids about healthy relationships and equip them with the knowledge and tools to protect themselves at an early age. This becomes especially relevant, says Kourthauer, when they are beginning to explore romantic relationships.
“We need to give them these tools when they are actually starting to date,” Kourthauer says. “If they do not know how to identify problems, they may not know how to stop them.”
Changes in access to information and technology have changed when, and how, younger age groups need access to relevant information. “Sex education has to evolve with the times,” Gammon says. “It has to change with technology.”
Technology has opened the door to a variety of new issues like possessive texting and sexting, says Kourthauer.
“Sexting is a significant problem in schools, and it can be difficult for schools to respond to this issue,” Kourthauer says.
Another problem surrounding sexual education, says Kourthauer, is the “boys will be boys” mindset that is often used to excuse sexual violence. Kourthauer says this mindset undermines the intelligence of men as well as relinquishes them of responsibility for their actions. At the same time, girls are socialized to avoid saying no, says Kourthauer.
This disparity in social perception means society traditionally has placed women in sole responsibility for the sexual violence they encounter.
“The problem with that mindset is, if you are focusing on the women, you are leaving out the men,” Kourthauer says. “Sexual assault is as much of a men’s issue as it is a women’s issue.”
Through education and outreach specialists like Gammon and Kourthauer, SARC is working to dispel impractical and inaccurate information and shift the mentality of impressionable audiences toward a more healthy and nondiscriminatory view of relationships.
The ultimate goal is to reduce the sobering statistics of how many women and men will experience sexual violence. For anyone in need of SARC’s services for survivors of sexual assault, there is a 24-hour crisis hotline; a program that provides a trained victim’s advocate to accompany survivors to medical facilities, court proceedings or law enforcement; confidential counseling to survivors and their friends and family; and community education and outreach.
Counseling through SARC can be on an individual basis or in a group. SARC also offers couples and family therapy.
Like most non-profit organizations, SARC relies on volunteers to offer this range of services to the seven counties in the Brazos Valley, says Gammon. Volunteers interested in becoming a Victim’s Advocate must complete 40 hours of training as required by the Texas Attorney General. Volunteers then sign up to be available during scheduled shifts. SARC is currently looking for both volunteers and interns.
For more information about SARC, to schedule an Education or Outreach program, or to become a volunteer or intern, visit www.sarcbv.org. Contact SARC by phone at (979) 731-1000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SARC’s location is strictly confidential and not shared on any platform. Statistics in this article provided by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.