V is for Victim

Every year on and around Valentine’s Day, adherents of the V-Day movement to end violence against women hold events around the world, including benefit productions of playwright/founder Eve Ensler’s award winning play The Vagina Monologues and other artistic works.

On Feb. 17 Mary Colborn will host a V-day event from 7 to 9 p.m. at Moondogs Too, 714 Bay St. in Port Orchard. The presentation will follow a power point developed by Ensler as a teaching tool, with a focus on abuses against women in the Congo, and discussion to follow.

A little farther afield, Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma will present The Vagina Monlogues at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with proceeds going to Tacoma organizations working to end violence against women and girls. Past recipients include: the Sexual Assault Center of Pierce County, the Sexual Assault Peer Education Team, the YWCA of Pierce County and Phoebe House.

V-day reminds us of the lasting affects of sexual assault on victims and the prevalence of crimes against women (and men). Often the perpetrators are people the victims know.

In a survey of women in Seattle’s Puget Sound area, 11 percent said they had been raped by their partners. (Group Health Center for Health Studies, Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and the University of Washington. Reported in Seattle Times, May 16, 2006)

One in six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, and 10 percent of sexual assault victims are men. (2004 National Crime Victimization Survey).

In a 1995 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease control of 5,000 students at over 100 colleges, 20 percent of female college students or one in five answered “yes” to the question, “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?” (Douglas, K. A. et al. (1997).
Results from the 1995 national college health risk behavior survey. Journal of American College Health, 46, 55-66.)

Nearly half of the women surveyed in the Puget Sound area (Seattle) reported that they had been physically, sexually or psychologically abused by their partners at some point in their adult lives. Thirty per cent said they had been hit. (Group Health Center for Health Studies, Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and the University of Washington. Reported in Seattle Times, May 16, 2006).

The greatest barriers to victims receiving help are embarrassment and fear, according to Martha Wescott, director of the Kitsap Sexual Assault Center. Although education on sexual assault has raised awareness, victims worry about being blamed for the crime.

“I think it is still out there,” said Wescott.

And they fear retribution for reporting to authorities.

Signs to look out for in someone you love or know who may have been the victim of abuse include a sudden change in behavior, depression, anger, isolation, sleeplessness or fearfulness, Wescott said.

Employers who field complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace should investigate the allegations.

“Anything that is reported to have happened at the work place, you’re putting yourself in jeopardy as an employer to simply ignore that,” Wescott said.

If the victim is an adult, she (or he) has the right to decide whether or not to report the abuse to the police. If the victim is a minor the law requires therapists, medical personnel, school staff, licensed child care providers and other health and social service professionals to report the suspected abuse. The law also includes, “Any adult who resides with a child suspected to have suffered severe abuse.”

The state’s toll free Child Abuse and Neglect hotline is (866) 363-4276.

Regardless of whether the victim plans to report the crime, anyone who has been assaulted should seek medical care and emotional support immediately, Wescott said.

The Sexual Assault Center has a 24-hour crisis line, (360) 479-8500.

Victims can also go to Harrison Medical Center and ask for nurses specially trained in the SANE, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program. Nurses performing exams will first be looking out for the victim’s well-being. They also will collect evidence that will be kept on file for up to a year in the event the adult victim decides not to report the incident right away.

The trauma of sexual assault can have lasting effects, Wescott said. Fortunately, with support from professionals, family and community, healing can take place. The sooner one seeks help, the sooner they can heal, Wescott said.

The sexual assault center offers counseling, support groups and court advocates who can help victims navigate the legal system as they seek protection and justice.

The center’s business number is (360) 479-1788, or e-mail ksac@wavecable.com. Again, in a crisis, call 24 hours a day at (360) 479-8500.

You are not alone.

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