The author is the executive director of the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and there is a reason to pay attention. According to the U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey from 2006-2010, an average of 207,754 victims (age 12 or older) are sexually assaulted/raped each year in our nation.
That means someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes. The World Health Organization estimates victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide than those who have not experienced sexual violence.
As staggering as these statistics are, sexual violence rates in the U.S. have decreased by 60 percent since 1993. There are many reasons attributed to this falling trend, including the growing support for community prevention and awareness programs.
Here in Saratoga County, Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County (DVRC) just last year reached out to over 2,000 youth and 300 professional and adult audiences, spending 238 hours providing prevention programs and informational sessions to educate individuals about warning signs and how to stay safe.
Prevention is the key in the campaign to end sexual violence. Here are some tips to share with your loved ones to stay safe:
Stay alert at all times. Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid distractions when walking around town, such as wearing headphones or using your cell phone while walking.
Pay attention to your consumption of alcohol and don’t use drugs. The majority of sexual assaults happen when the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Substance use can lower your inhibitions and make you increasingly vulnerable to being attacked.
Use the Buddy System. Get to know your peers before trusting them. More often than not, sexual violence victims are assaulted by someone they know, whether it is a partner, a familiar friend or family member, or a new acquaintance. Let them know what you’re willing and not willing to do. Travel with friends and if this is not possible, let someone know when you are leaving and where you are going. Always leave with the same friends you traveled with and agree in advance not to leave any one behind.
Trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy, there is usually good reason for it. Be able to identify your feelings so you can make choices that can help keep yourself safe.
Know the services available to you. Have important numbers saved in your phone such as 911 and your local police department. Know that you can reach out to DVRC if you have safety concerns or you have been victimized. In Saratoga County , the rape crisis hotline is (518) 587-2336 where callers can receive information about sexual assault. The hotline is 24/7, free of charge and confidential.