By: Laura De La Paz, MS, LPC Intern Supervised by: Dr. Kevin Fall, PhD, LPC-S, Sexual Assault Counselor/HEARTeam Coordinator
The following article is the fourth article of a five-week series focusing on raising awareness about sexual assault and child abuse. April is both Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Awareness month and it is our hope to educate our local community on these two very serious issues. 2 in 5 women and 1 in 5 men will experience a form of sexual assault in their lifetime. Locally, the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been serving victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and child abuse since 1978. Last year, HCWC served 2,111 victims of abuse (face-to-face) from Hays and Caldwell Counties. 749 of those were adult victims of sexual assault and 545 were victims of child abuse. Listen – Believe – Support is our theme for the month and we encourage our community to help in listening, believing and supporting local survivors.
On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “”If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” This tweet started a ripple effect of an infinite number of survivors and victims of sexual assault coming forward and sharing that they too had experienced sexual violence.
Since then, the #MeToo movement has continuously grown and awareness has spread. While this is all positive and should be celebrated, sexual violence has still not ended. There is still much work to be done, and one way to start is by getting yourself educated and informed.
The Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been listening to and serving victims of abuse for 41 years. In the last year alone, the number of victims of sexual abuse we have served increased from 444 five years ago to 749 this past year. Sexual violence is a crime, and sadly it is very present in our community. The people we serve range from having been recently victimized to having been sexually assaulted years ago.
As a sexual assault counselor at HCWC, I have heard many victims of sexual assault share that the #MeToo movement inspired them to come forward and work towards their own healing. They realized that they deserved to take the power and control of their lives back into their hands. Some of the individuals reported their assault while others had not.
It is important that one understand that reporting is not always as simple as it may come across. Television shows and the media often demonstrate sexual assault cases as being clear cut and to the point regarding the steps of a case. This results in sexual assault victims having high expectations of their case being simple and fast moving, which unfortunately is not always the case.
As mentioned, the #MeToo movement inspired many to share their stories, but this is very different from reporting it and taking legal action. Experiencing sexual assault is traumatic and depending on the situation, the victim may not feel safe reporting. Unfortunately, sexual assault cases are not always known to have the best outcomes in the legal system, and therefore, victims feel discouraged to come forward and report.
At HCWC, we want victims to know that they can have a support system with them throughout this process if they choose to report. We have legal advocates that can explain the expectations and counselors that can provide the emotional support they may need.
Hays County District Attorney, Wes Mau, wants victims to know that “Prosecutors and investigators who work on sexual assault cases understand very well the courage it takes for a victim to report these kinds of crimes, and why victims hesitate or fear the consequences of coming forward. While the criminal justice system can be a difficult and frustrating exercise, we do all we can to ease the burden on the crime victim, protect them from re-traumatization, and empower them to seek justice for themselves.”
Victims of sexual assault should know that even if their assault occurred some time ago, they may still have some legal options. If they choose not to report, services such as counseling, are available to help them through their trauma.
The #MeToo Movement has provided a platform for sexual violence to be present in the minds of our country. It has provided comfort for victims to not feel isolated and alone. It has helped make steps forward in the legal system on how to hold perpetrators accountable and get victims the help and justice they deserve.
However, it has also caused many to hurt because it is a subject that they so badly want to forget. It is important to respect victims and survivors and to remind them that they are in control of their story and how they wish to proceed.
Here in Hays and Caldwell County, we can help sexual assault victims in our community by not passing judgement and by letting them know that they are supported. We need to let them know that they are in control and can move forward however they wish to, whether that be by reporting, by getting themselves the services they need for their healing, or by not taking any action at all.
With all the awareness and discussion involving sexual assault, many have asked themselves how they can get involved in the movement to end sexual violence. Here at HCWC, we have the HEARTeam program, where sexual assault certified advocates go to the hospital and are present with a victim after their assault.
Also, just getting connected with our agency and helping us spread awareness can make such a huge difference. HCWC provides the training and support needed to help advocates provide support services for victims of sexual assault in our community.
To learn more ways to get involved with HCWC visit our website, www.hcwc.org for opportunities to volunteer, donate or get information on services. You can visit our educational website www.StopTheHurt.org for more educational tools on abuse issues and resources.