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Guest Opinion: April Campaign Aims to 'Stick it to Silence' About Sexual Assault

King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who represents parts of Redmond, explains why Sexual Assault Awareness Month is important.

By Kathy Lambert

In April every year, we recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, in a national effort to keep this issue in the public spotlight and spread understanding about the importance of speaking out. We know that silence about sexual assault protects the offender and does nothing to increase public safety.

“Stick It to Silence” is this year’s public awareness campaign by the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC) to connect victims with resources. The campaign provides stickers listing KCSARC’s 24-Hour Resource Line (888-99-VOICE), which can be posted in businesses and gathering places where permitted throughout the community. Bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms are some suggested places to post the phone number stickers. KCSARC reminds those who have experienced sexual violence that it is never too late to call. Find out how to help at http://www.kcsarc.org/saam2012

He was a long-time friend, and she had no reason to mistrust him. Cynthia, an Issaquah resident who works in the medical profession, found her life shattered unexpectedly last summer when this trusted friend sexually assault her.

“I don’t think anyone can really be prepared.” Cynthia told me. “It can happen with people you are already comfortable with in your life.”

Sexual assault can be perpetrated by sexual predators who prey on strangers, and those cases get the most media attention. But more common, and even more devastating, is an assault by an acquaintance or a trusted friend or family member. The sense of betrayal that comes with the physical violation can be overwhelming and can make it difficult to navigate the criminal justice system in search of a legal remedy and emotional recovery.

“I think people need to know what we can do afterward,” Cynthia said. A mom with two grown children, she now volunteers with KCSARC and reaches out to other survivors of sexual assault to let them know they are not alone.

Sexual violence, stalking and intimate partner violence continue to be major public health problems in the United States, according to a new study by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey conducted in 2010 found that 18.3 percent of women and 1.4 percent of men have been victims of rape at some time in their lives. As many as half of all women and a third of all men may experience some form of intimate partner violence or stalking over their lifetime. The study concluded, “Many survivors of these forms of violence can experience physical injury, mental health consequences such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and suicide attempts, and other health consequences such as gastrointestinal disorders, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and gynecological or pregnancy complications. These consequences can lead to hospitalization, disability or death.”

The growing focus on awareness of sexual assault and how to prevent it is changing social attitudes and behaviors. A 2008 review indicated that child sexual assault was on the decline, particularly for children 6 and younger. While no single cause was identified, researchers speculate that greater awareness, more support for victims and improved laws all contribute to this reduction. 

Washington state is a leader in the country with a well-organized system of accredited community sexual assault programs. In King County, comprehensive integrated services are provided by KCSARC and Harborview Medical Center, and two other programs deliver services to specific communities through the Children’s’ Response Center on the Eastside and the Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services. Other partnering agencies include Asian Pacific Islanders/Chaya, Refugee Women’s Alliance, Asian Counseling and Referral Services , NW Network, Seattle Counseling Services and Consejo.

As a private, non-profit organization, KCSARC also partners with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in its efforts to end sexual assault and hold offenders accountable.  Since 1976, KCSARC has worked to alleviate, as much as possible, the trauma of sexual assault for victims and families by giving them a voice, creating change in beliefs and attitudes about violence, and supporting those who speak out against sexual assault.

“A legal advocate from KCSARC became my rock, my source of wisdom, and my biggest advocate,” Cynthia said. “With her by my side at the courthouse to answer my questions (and I had a lot), as well as supply me with tissues and emotional support, I was able to make well thought-through decisions as to which direction to go. I have no doubt that without her, I would have remained silent about my assault. I would not have found some resolution to the injustice that I suffered.” Although charges weren’t filed in her case, Cynthia has found the strength to share her story and help others learn that help is just a phone call away.

It is up to all of us to challenge public perceptions and work to end the stigma that victims of sexual assault endure. It’s never too late to call.

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King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert of Redmond represents District 3, which includes parts of Redmond, and chairs the Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee.

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