Campaign seeks to bolster awareness of sexual assault

Earlier this week, a province-wide campaign called ‘I Believe You’ was launched to help further bolster awareness about the under-reported crime of sexual assault.

The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS), in affiliation with post-secondary institutions and the Government of Alberta unveiled campaign details in Edmonton on Monday.

According to the AASAS, sexual assault is, as mentioned, a severely under-reported crime – around 97% of incidents go unreported. That is simply unimaginable and heartbreaking.

Those behind the campaign say that primarily, education is the key. The public simply needs to see a heightened awareness on the issue, which will in turn empower victims to come forward. To think that such a campaign is so necessary is a sad truth in society today, where cruelty and abuse of all kinds are frighteningly common and often, as indicated, go on repeatedly behind closed doors.

Officials also point out that launching the campaign is a form of prevention because people who receive a positive response are, “Significantly more likely to get help, seek justice, and help stop sexual assault.”

Another aspect of the campaign is to inform citizens on how to respond to hearing that a friend or loved one had been assaulted. According to the AASAS, province-wide polling by Leger Research shows only 15% of Albertans ‘strongly agree’ that they would know what to say if someone told them that she or he had been sexually assaulted.

Sometimes asking the most helpful and supportive questions can be much harder to do than we might think. According to campaign officials, “Responders worry about doing more harm by saying the wrong thing. It’s human to want to give advice, but it’s much better to listen than talk. If you do talk, the best things to say are simple words of support and compassion – ‘I’m sorry that happened/it’s not your fault/I believe you.’

According to the Association’s web site, more than half of all sexual assaults take place in the victim’s own home, or within 1.6 kms of it. Another 20% of sexual assaults happen in the home of a friend, neighbour or relative.

Meanwhile, there is tremendous power in words – if we can be the kind of people that victims feel they can open up to, there is so much progress and healing that can flow from that. It’s about putting others first and letting them talk – even when you are troubled about what you might hear.

As officials point out, it’s indeed the openness and willingness to dialogue that helps victims so much. “We believe that open dialogue is critical—for both parties – to ensure that justice is served. The role of first responders is not to play judge and jury. It’s to listen and empathize.”

It’s tempting to think that with the society we live in today, there is little in the way of issues or sensitive subjects that remain in the shadows. But that simply isn’t the case.

There have been tremendous strides in many areas to be sure. Stigma over many issues has diminished or completely been wiped away. However, there is much in the way of improvement still needed in many other areas. Silence, in the case of sexual assault for example, is a horrendous roadblock to not only justice but to recovery as well. If people don’t feel free to talk about what has happened to them; if they don’t feel safe to be vulnerable even with a trusted friend or family member, then there is certainly a long road ahead.

But there is hope. As organizers have pointed out, this campaign has already garnered significant support.

“We have gained a remarkable level of support from community, post-secondary, and government agencies. This coordinated response will help us dramatically improve outcomes for survivors of sexual assault.”

For more information, visit www.aasas.ca.

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