HOUGHTON - Officially observed in the United States for the first time in 2001, this April marks the twelfth annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault support and education groups often take this month to highlight issues which they deal with every day and to raise public awareness and promote education on safety and prevention of sexual assault in communities.
"We really only talk about it when there's a report in the newspaper or it happens to someone we know but it's always going on," said Renee Wells, assistant director at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Michigan Technological University. "We need to look at what we're doing as a community in terms of prevention and education and work hard to put an end to sexual assault."
Wells suggested several individual safety tips to protect oneself from sexual assault including measures such as walking in groups at night and watching alcohol intake. The most important safety measure, Wells said, is being aware of your environment. Noticing the people and situations around you can help alert you to potential dangers, including the possibility of sexual assault. Practicing this awareness aids not only in personal protection but also in recognizing opportunities to intervene and help others who may be being targeted for sexual assault.
Meagan Stilp/Daily Mining Gazette
Dial Help is a non-profit organization that helps to not only prevent sexual assault, but gives support to those who have been victimized by it.
"It's not just about protecting yourself, but also about education and spreading awareness," Wells said. "It's not just about teaching people not to objectify women but also to teach about bystander intervention and when to step in when something is happening and recognizing when there is a situation where someone can easily be taken advantage of."
Bystander intervention, wherein one realizes that another person is at risk of being sexually assaulting and steps in to diffuse the situation and get the intended victim to safety, is an important aspect of community safety and prevention. However if you believe sexual assault is occurring in the moment, Wells said, it is appropriate to call the police for assistance.
The Center for Diversity and Inclusion hosts events on Michigan Tech's campus throughout the year to educate students and community members on bystander intervention, including how to recognize potentially dangerous situations and some ways to safely intervene. The programs are open to the public and anyone can receive e-mail updates concerning new events by visiting www.mtu.edu/diversity-center/resources/faculty-staff/ and signing up for the Diversity News Listserv.
Community members who have been victims of assault can seek assistance and support from local community support and outreach center Dial Help, located downtown Houghton. Dial Help not only operates a help line, it also offers live chatting on its website and text message support. Victims can find emotional support in Dial Help support groups and through counseling. For information on the Support Group for Survivors of Sexual Assault and the Friends and Families call 1-866-662-5589. To talk to someone on the help line call 482-HELP (4357) or toll-free at 1-800-562-7622.
"They help in every capacity they are able to," said Wells. "Even if the victim chooses not to report the assault."
Along with supporting and advocating for victims, Dial Help also works to prevent sexual assault. They work to educate individuals, communities and providers as well as to influence policy and legislation in government and in organizations. They provide presentations, seminars and training for various organizations on sexual violence prevention. For more information on the educational and support services offered at Dial Help, visit their website at www.dialhelp.org.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month provides an opportunity to recognize and discuss the problem of sexual assault in the community. In order to fight the prevelance of sexual assault, however, it is important to remember it during the rest of the year said Wells.
"The best thing we can do to prevent sexual assault is keep the discussion going," said Wells.