April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and law enforcement and non-profit organizations are spreading awareness across Washington County.
The Beaverton Police Department informs survivors of sexual assault what their options are if they choose to report the crime. Those who are ready to speak with the police may report as much or as little information as they feel comfortable in person, over the phone or by requesting an officer come to a location.
In order to get the word out about Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Beaverton, the police department is placing teal ribbon magnets on all marked patrol vehicles as a sign of outward public awareness.
"It's important to raise awareness about sexual assault because it's an issue that affects people of all gender identities," said Katrina Rodriguez, a victim services coordinator with the Beaverton Police Department. "It affects people from all different backgrounds and demographics, and it's something that impacts people in the most vulnerable ways. It's something that is often underreported, and we want to ensure that our community knows of all of the different options, resources and choices that they have within reporting."
The Beaverton Police Department partnered with the Washington County District Attorney's Office to create a short video raising awareness about sexual assault, along with spreading awareness through social media.
The Beaverton Police Department also works with the Sexual Assault Resource Center, a nonprofit organization not affiliated with law enforcement that provides confidential support and resources to survivors of sexual assault.
This year, SARC is spreading awareness throughout the month by publishing its fourth annual art zine called "Reclaim//Reclama." It will feature art and voice of people who have experienced violence throughout the state.
"Sexual violence is a public health crisis that impacts one in three women and one in four men in their lifetime," said Morgan Evans with SARC, citing recent statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. "Though many people experience this form of violence, cultural norms and taboos about talking about this subject may prevent individuals from understanding the gravity of how overwhelming large these numbers are. Awareness is an important first step to offering and providing support to those effected and preventing further harm from happening."
The coronavirus pandemic has also impacted the access surrounding services available for sexual assault survivors.
Evans says that in the last year, service providers have been forced to adapt to a primarily virtual setting for providing support, which can exclude people who do have reliable access to phone or internet services or may not know how to navigate the new digital environment.
"Being isolated from family, friends and community can affect people's coping and healing after an assault," Evans said. "Seeking services, such as medical care, after an assault can now carry the weight and concern of a potential COVID-19 exposure."
SARC is also seeing a decrease in the number of reports of child sex abuse, with schools being held through distance learning, Evans said. School systems and teachers are often the first point of support for students.
The organization offers a 24-hour support line that is open to anyone, including a person who was assaulted or someone helping a survivor who was assaulted.
The phone line allows people to ask questions, receive referrals, and receive anonymous and judgment-free emotional support.
"For people living in Washington County we offer free and fully confidential follow-up services in English and Spanish," added Evans. "These services can include ongoing emotional support, support through systems such as the criminal justice, school, or medical system and information about resources specific to each person's unique experience and needs. SARC believes each person is the expert of their own experience and what is best for them."
SARC also offers free group and individualized counseling in both English and Spanish. People can also attend a community education program offered by the organization that provides trainings or information about sexual violence and prevention work.
Considering that survivors of sexual assault may be hesitant to talk to police, SARC offers regular trainings to officers and law enforcement advocates about victim-blaming and rape culture, the dynamics of sexual violence, and trauma-informed services.
"We want people to feel like they are comfortable in a space that feels safe for them," said Rodriguez. "We will also do our best to accommodate any kind of preferred dates and times of reporting and other issues that may be of concern. … We just want to do our best to reduce any of those barriers that people may feel or may have in order for them to meet and speak with someone."
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call SARC's 24-hour support line at 503-640-5311 or visit sarcoregon.org.
Reports can be made to law enforcement by calling the Washington County non-emergency dispatch line at 503-629-0111. For emergency situations, call 9-1-1 instead.
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