We cannot ignore sexual assault | Editorial

We cannot ignore sexual assault | Editorial

Every 92 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

Who are the people behind that statistic? They are women and men in an abusive relationship. They are young girls in college on a first date. They are children in the care of a trusted adult. They are you and me and the person standing next to you in the grocery store.

I believe that every survivor deserves a safe place to find help and support. Not addressing an assault can have lifelong effects of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and self-destructive behaviors. April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and it’s a time to foster discussion about a topic that isn’t pleasant. Here are some facts, courtesy of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (www.rainn.org):

• 82 percent of all juvenile victims are female, and 90 percent of adult rape victims are female.

• Females ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.

• Women college students ages 18-24 are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are four times more likely.

• On average, there are 321,500 victims (ages 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.

These statistics are – without a doubt – relevant in our communities. I believe, in fact, that we need to be more vigilant here because of the difficulty in speaking up about an abuser who may be well-known. Living here, we have an inherent trust in everyone around us, which is the perfect breeding ground for predators to thrive.

On San Juan Island, parents created a local chapter of WATCH D.O.G.S., or Dads of Great Students, three years ago. The mission of the nationwide group is for parents to be positive role models and provide enhanced school security. After vetting, including background checks, volunteers can spend either a full day or a few hours at school doing activities like greeting students at the school in the morning, watching the playground during recess or being a crossing guard. Both moms and dads can participate. Interest in the group has been rekindled after parents learned of a minor who is a registered level 1 sex offender living in Friday Harbor.

During a recent meeting of WATCH D.O.G.S., San Juan Sheriff Ron Krebs said there are 21 registered offenders living in the San Juans. He noted that the likelihood of someone being assaulted by people they know is much higher than being attacked by a stranger. To see a map of registered sex offenders in your area, visit https://offenderwatch.com. By law, it only lists level 2 and 3 offenders.

Krebs said statistics show the vast majority of rape cases occur by a friend, neighbor or family member – and those people are most likely not already registered offenders. He offered the following tips for parents: always know whom your children are with and confirm an adult is supervising; don’t let them walk places alone unless they are teenagers or with a group; monitor their social media accounts; talk to them about what is appropriate adult behavior; be snoopy and ask lots of questions; build a strong relationship with your child. If you know their behavior well, you’ll recognize if something is amiss, and they will be more likely to open up to you; speak up! If you witness something, don’t keep quiet about it. Contact the sheriff’s office at 378-4151.

We have an incredible organization that serves the residents of our county: SAFE San Juans. Its mission is the prevention and elimination of domestic violence and sexual assault through victim services, education, community awareness and cultural and social change. All of its services are free and confidential and are for anyone regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, income status or sexual orientation. SAFE advocates can help you every step of the way from identifying abuse, to receiving counseling, to helping with a court case to being part of a support group. The Orcas 24/7 helpline is 360-376-1234.

If you’d like to support SAFE’s cause, there are two 5K races coming up: April 13 at Orcas Athletics and April 20 at CrossFit Lopez. The event starts at 8 p.m. and is a well-lit run/ walk with glow sticks, glow paint, music and more. Visit www.safesj.org for more information.

Former SAFE San Juans Board President Angela Douglas shared the following with the Sounder.

“Being a ‘survivor’ from sexual assault is a statistic I am not happy to be a part of. No one should have to go through life with that stigma attached to them. But the fact of the matter is: if it hasn’t happened to you, it has happened to someone you know. It has happened to me.

“It is not something that only happens to women either. Men, women and children, young and old – this disgusting act knows no boundaries. The long-term effects can be devastating. Please get involved, have that hard conversation with your child; awareness is key. Education and prevention can help save someone you love. Please help us continue to do just that by donating to SAFE San Juans. A small donation can help prevention at our local schools or even help fund therapy for a survivor. You can make a difference.”