Mayor Woody Jacobs proclaims April Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Cullman

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Olivia Heptinstall receives the proclamation from Mayor Jacobs Wednesday morning. (Photo courtesy of City of Cullman) 

CULLMAN, Ala. – On Wednesday, March 24 2021, Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs officially proclaimed the month of April 2021 Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the City of Cullman, challenging all citizens to observe SAAM by joining advocates and communities across the country in playing an active role in the prevention of sexual assault and violence. 

 On hand to receive the proclamation from Mayor Jacobs was Olivia Heptinstall, Prevention Educator at Victim Services of Cullman, Inc. (VSOC). VSOC was established in 1991 and began providing services to victims of sexual violence in 1996. Sexual violence refers to any sexual activity when consent is not obtained or given freely. VSOC’s mission is to break the cycle of family violence and sexual assault, preventing future acts of abuse through education and outreach. They also help empower sexual violence survivors through support and advocacy. 

 The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities on methods of prevention. While it’s just one month out of the year, the attention April generates is an opportunity to energize and expand prevention efforts throughout the year. This year, SAAM is celebrating its 30th anniversary with the theme #ConsentRULES which, at its core, is about communicating, understanding and respecting another person’s boundaries – and vice versa. This year’s campaign seeks to educate the public on the five rules for obtaining, confirming and honoring consent: 

 

  1. Establish Boundaries: Boundaries are your personal rules to make you feel safe and respected in all relationships. 
  1. Communicate Comfort Zones: Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of respect and communication. 
  1. Ask Every Time: If you’re unsure about another person’s boundaries, ask. Consenting to one activity one time does not mean someone gives consent for other activities, or for the same activity on other occasions. Nothing should be assumed. 
  1. Check In Regularly: The best way to ensure that all parties are comfortable with any activity is to talk about it and make sure everyone involved consents before escalating or changing activities. 
  1. Respect Each Other: Respect is about honoring one another’s boundaries. 

 For more detailed information on the #SAAM2021 #ConsentRULES theme, visit www.rainn.org (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) or contact VSOC at 256-775-2600 or 256-734-6100 or help@victimservices.online. 

 Many of the customary SAAM events and observances cannot be held due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are many resources available on the VSOC website (www.victimservices.online), the VSOC Facebook page (facebook.com/victimservicescullman/) and various other places online and on social media that provide information on the issue of sexual violence. 

 “We appreciate all that Victim Services does for victims of sexual violence in Cullman,” said Mayor Jacobs. “I am happy to do my part to help bring awareness to this issue.” 

 Sexual violence impacts every community and can affect people of any gender, sexual orientation, age and socioeconomic status. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that the majority of people who perpetrate sexual violence are known to their victims – friend, current or former intimate partner, co-worker, neighbor or family member. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, and roughly 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Sexual violence can lead to serious short-term and long-term health consequences, including physical injury, poor mental health and chronic physical health problems. Sexual violence is also linked to negative health behaviors such as smoking, alcohol abuse, drug use and risky sexual activity. 

 Anyone can be the target of sexual violence. It can occur in any situation and is never the fault of the victim regardless of the circumstances. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of sexual violence, such as: 

 AT HOME: 

  •  Make sure all windows and doors are locked securely and entrances are well-lighted. 
  • Check the ID of any sales or service people before letting them in. 
  • If you live in an apartment, avoid being in the laundry room or garage by yourself, particularly at night. 
  • If you come home alone and find a door or window open or signs of forced entry, don’t go in. Contact local law enforcement. 

 WHILE WALKING: 

  •  Be alert to your surroundings. 
  • Stay in well-lighted areas. 
  • Walk confidently at a steady pace on the side of the street facing traffic. 
  • Walk close to the curb and avoid doorways, bushes and alleys. 
  • If you feel you’re being followed, walk into a store or knock on a house door. 
  • If you find yourself in trouble, attract help any way you can. 

 WHILE DRIVING: 

  •  Keep your vehicle in good working order and the gas tank at least half-full. 
  • Park in well-lighted areas and lock the doors. 
  • When you return to your car, have the key ready and check the front and rear seats before getting in. 
  • Drive with the doors locked. 
  • Never pick up hitchhikers. 
  • If you have a flat tire, drive until you reach a safe, well-lighted and well-traveled area. 
  • Exercise extra caution when using enclosed parking garages. 
  • If you are being followed, don’t go home. Go to the nearest business or to the local police station. 

 WHEN DATING: 

  •  Keep your cellphone charged and nearby. 
  • Tell a friend where you’re going. 
  • Meet in a public place. 
  • Don’t rely on your date for transportation. 
  • Don’t leave your food or drink unattended. 
  • Limit alcohol consumption. 
  • Don’t give out your personal information. 
  • Consider carrying pepper spray or Mace, just in case. 
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable, feel free to leave a date or cut off communication. 

 ON SOCIAL MEDIA: 

  •  Adjust your privacy settings and select options that limit who can view your information. 
  • Turn off geolocation. 
  • Use a private internet connection and avoid public Wi-Fi connections. 
  • Do not click on or respond to suspicious messages received through social media. 
  • Report harassment or inappropriate content. 

 WHILE ONLINE DATING: 

  •  Use different photos for your dating profile than what you have on your social media accounts. 
  • Avoid connecting with suspicious profiles or profiles with very limited information. 
  • Check out your potential date on social media. 
  • Block and report suspicious users. 

 AS A BYSTANDER: 

  •  Give someone in trouble a safe ride home from a party. 
  • Confront someone who is engaging in threatening behavior toward someone else. Enlist a friend to help, if possible. 
  • Create a distraction to give a person at risk a chance to get to a safe place. 
  • Talk to a security guard, bartender or other person in authority – or even call 911 – if you think someone is at risk or sexual violence. 

 AS A PARENT: 

  •  Show interest in your child’s day-to-day life. 
  • Get to know the people in your child’s life. 
  • Choose caregivers carefully. 
  • Know the warning signs of sexual abuse in children. 
  • Closely monitor your child’s online activity. 
  • Teach your child about boundaries. 
  • Teach your child how to talk about their bodies. 
  • Let them know they won’t get in trouble for telling you if someone is abusing them. 

 For more information sexual violence, visit: 

 If you are a victim of sexual assault, or if you know someone who is: 

  •  Contact VSOC at 256-775-2600 or 256-734-6100 or help@victimservices.online   
  • Contact your local law enforcement agency or, 
  • Call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)