Sexual violence: starting the conversation

Another community raising awareness as a first step in preventing sexual assault

Panel discussion of sexual violence with parents and teens

Documentary screening at Wilton Library addresses sexual violence” originally appeared in The Hour (Southwest Connecticut)

beg-quote-black-71by52WILTON — One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, and more than 90 percent of those victims never report the assault, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

This past fall, the Wilton Domestic Violence Task Force was made aware that a former Wilton High School student was part of that statistic — and part of an issue that many experts consider an epidemic.

To raise awareness about campus sexual assault, and in recognition of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, the task force collaborated with a coalition of local groups to put on a full day of programs on Wednesday at the public schools and library, including a free screening of “The Hunting Ground” Wednesday night.

Martha Griep, a Wilton parent who came to the screening with her high school daughter, said the issues of sexual violence and sexual assault need to be addressed more.

“I think if it sees the light of day, kids are going to realize it’s not OK,” Griep said. “It’s scary. My daughter’s a junior and she’s going to be a senior next year and then off to college.”

The condensed 40-minute version follows several undergraduate sexual assault survivors, including Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, co-founders of End Rape on Campus, an advocacy group for survivors of campus sexual assault.

The two launched a nationwide campaign in 2013 to use Title IX complaints to push institutions to address sexual assault and related issues more aggressively.

In some cases, as shown in the documentary, perpetrators of sexual assault received light disciplinary action — such as a $25 fine, a one-day suspension or an assignment to write a reflection essay.

A panel discussion followed the screening, with Wilton police Lt. Rob Cipolla, a member of the Wilton Domestic Violence Task Force, as one of the four panelists.

Cipolla is the police department’s domestic violence liaison and oversees the Detective Bureau that is tasked with investigating cases of more serious nature, including sexual assaults.

In the past three years, Wilton has had an average of four sexual assault complaints per year, he said.

“In Wilton, we are fortunate in respect that this isn’t a prevalent crime that we see reported,” he said. “But again, one is too many.”

If someone has been a victim of sexual assault, he or she has 120 hours to seek medical attention from a hospital to have a forensic evidence exam collected, which will be held at the lab for up to five years, and decide whether or not to file a police report, according to Rosie Enyart, lead crisis counselor and adult advocate at The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education in Stamford.

“Usually at that time, an advocate from our center will be called and will come with you to help you through the process,” Enyart said. “Most importantly, seeking counseling of some kind, seeking support is very important for survivors of sexual assault.”

In terms of prevention, Enyart said fostering awareness and providing education about sexual assault are key, starting as early as kindergarten.

Every local and regional school district in Connecticut is required to have a K-12 sexual assault and abuse prevention awareness program, a mandate effective since Oct. 1, 2016, stated in Connecticut General Statute Sec. 17a-101q.

“We are doing our very best to get into every school in lower Fairfield County to provide such education,” Enyart said. “We don’t go into Kindergarten talking about sexual assault but we do start at Kindergarten by talking about ‘It’s OK to say no to hugs’ and ‘You’re the boss of your own body.’”

“By instilling those skills when somebody’s young, they can carry them through high school and then into their adult years,” added Allison Roach, an attorney advocate with the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, which also offers educational and awareness programs in schools.

Toward the end of the panel discussion, the panelists addressed a question often linked to sexual violence and assault cases: What role do drugs and alcohol play?

“It’s definitely an important piece of the puzzle that needs to be a part of the conversation,” said Johanna DeBari, an adult educator at The Women’s Center of Greater Danbury. “Alcohol is the most commonly used date rape drug. … It’s a tool that facilitates perpetrators to commit these acts of violence.”

Enyart agreed, emphasizing the difference between causation and correlation.

“Alcohol consumption does not cause sexual assault and abstaining from alcohol consumption will not prevent sexual assault,” Enyart said. “The only person who can prevent sexual assault is the perpetrator.”

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Image: The Hour

Author: Daniel Rondeau

I am a husband and father and an Episcopal Priest (from the Diocese of San Diego; "Retired" due to illness).

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