Sexual assault awareness, reporting on the rise
By Eileen Persike
Since January 1, district attorneys in Oneida, Vilas and Forest counties have filed criminal sexual assault charges against 14 individuals. And counting. Over the past two years, advocates at the agency that serves those three counties have noticed an increase in the number of people coming forward to report sexual assaults. April is the month that nationally sheds light on sexual assault awareness.
Braden Bayne-Allison, the sexual assault program coordinator at Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said he doesn’t think the assaults are happening more, but that people are becoming more comfortable talking about a subject that was very much taboo in the not-too-distant past.
“I think that has a lot to do with awareness,” Bayne-Allison said. “You see the impact of social media – of the media in general – in spotlighting all these large sexual assault cases and making it a conversation that’s difficult to avoid.”
It used to be easy, he noted, for people to “turn and walk away, change the channel, turn off the phone” when it came to talk of sexual assault and survivors. But now it’s inescapable.
“The Kavanaugh hearings, the whole issue with Joe Biden and his boundary issues. It can be harmful in some cases, but for the most part it’s good that those conversations are front and center,” Bayne-Allison said. “We see in social media a large support network for people who come forward and report; they can find support networks of survivors in that online community.”
That awareness still needs to be extended to children, he noted. “Whether they are being sexually abused, their home is not a safe environment, whatever it is, as adults we have this mentality that children lie, fabricate things, make things up and there is just no evidence of that.”
Fewer than 10% of accusations made by children about sexual violence are false reports. When a child is starting to have problems in school or is acting out, one of the things parents and other adults in a child’s life need to consider is sexual abuse. Though Bayne-Allison said he hates to have parents worry, it is a real problem, with serious ramifications.
“I can’t think of a crime against children – or adults – that has more of a long-term emotional and physical impact.”
Bayne-Allison seeks to counsel the youth of yesterday, who had used unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with a traumatic childhood and now have become high-risk adults. They can be seen, he said, in incarcerated populations or in addiction treatment programs.
“For youth who are on the cusp of criminality or finding meaningful work coming out of high school, [we are] seeing the impact of traumatic childhoods and how that is impacting them as adults.”
Requests for sexual assault presentations are eclipsing those for domestic violence; something Bayne-Allison said underscores the cultural shift.
“It’s powerful for survivors; power and control is such a huge aspect,” he said. “When you see some powerful people who are held accountable for their sexual abuse, I think it’s encouraging to other people that we’ve gotten to a point where maybe not everyone is bullet proof anymore.”
Society is not perfect, he added, at holding people accountable; “but we’re a lot better than we used to be.”
The council’s hotline is answered 24/7 and can be reached at 715-362-6841.