Every 98 seconds another American is sexually assaulted. In Pine County this past year, WINDOW, a local organization, has served 23 women, two men, and nine children in sexual assault situations. They also assisted with 12 restraining orders and responded to 56 crisis calls.
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), the one dedicated month of the year to bring light to the harsh realities of sexual assault, stories of survivor’s strength and hope of change in culture and society for the future. The teal ribbon was adopted as a symbol of sexual assault awareness and prevention.
Sexual assault defined
Sexual assault is sexual contact that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include attempted rape, unwanted touching, harassment, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts and rape. Although it can take different forms, it is never the victim’s fault. Sexual assault can happen in relationships and in marriages. It doesn’t matter if you have given the person the OK to do things in the past — if a person does not give consent, it is not OK, and is assault.
The state’s definition of consent, according to Minnesota Statute 609.341 is as follows:
– “Consent” means words or overt actions by a person indicating a freely given present agreement to perform a particular sexual act with the actor. Consent does not mean the existence of a prior or current social relationship between the actor and the complainant or that the complainant failed to resist a particular sexual act.
(b) A person who is mentally incapacitated or physically helpless as defined by this section cannot consent to a sexual act.
Survivors or victims?
Some victims of sexual assault are often not thought as of victims but rather as of survivors. “Surviving” conveys to the impacted and others that they are still fighting, whether it be through their own emotions, problems, the judicial system, or to gain awareness for the cause. Not every victim of a sexual assault likes to be identified as a survivor; some still prefer the title victim to place more of the blame on their perpetrator. Other victims may not feel they are at the point they can identify themselves as survivors yet; thus, when talking about sexual assault and violence, both terms may be brought up.
Sexual assault statistics
Although sexual assault is often portrayed as a woman being out late at night in a “bad place at a bad time,” getting hurt by a stranger — that usually isn’t what is going on. Although this type of assault does occur, it is not as common as many think.
• Seven out of 10 individuals know their attackers.
• Fifty-five percent of assaults occur in the victims’ homes.
• One out of every six American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, according to Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN).
Sexual assault doesn’t just affect women; it also affects men and children.
• One in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
• From 2009-13, child protective services found strong evidence to indicate that 63,000 children per year were victims of sexual abuse.
Sexual assault doesn’t just affect the victims, but friends, family and communities. If you are sitting in a room with six or more female family members or friends, there is a good chance that at least one of them has experienced some form of sexual violence or sexual assault. It is way more common than many people think.
WINDOW has been helping survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault, child and elder abuse, and general crime since 1986. They currently serve Pine, Carlton and Kanabec counties.
WINDOW stands for Women In Need Depending on Other Women. Although the name says women in need, WINDOW does serve all victims of abuse regardless of gender.
All advocacy services through WINDOW are free and confidential. They offer a wide variety of services for victims: initial support, continued and legal support, and prevention and victim advocacy.
Crisis line offered
WINDOW has a 24/7/365 free crisis line answered by either staff or trained volunteers. The crisis line is often the first thing that survivors call after an assault. By calling the line, survivors are able to learn some of their reporting/legal options, as well as how to go to the hospital, etc.
WINDOW will meet victims at the hospital and help them understand their rights. They also provide safe homes and emergency assistance for families fleeing abuse.
These services are extremely important because survivors often feel a lot of confusion, frustration, and may even feel scared or threatened after an assault, and really do not know what to do. WINDOW’s free crisis line is able to answer survivors’ questions and provide them with support and direction they might not otherwise have.
Once victims get initial support, whether it be a phone consultation, or hospital exam, or more, their journey is rarely over. Some victims may seek legal options which can be quite lengthy. WINDOW is able to help with that process, as well as support family and friends of victims. They provide assistance in filing orders for protection or harassment restraining orders, as well as help victims seek financial compensation for crimes and helping victims understand their options through the legal system. If victims choose to pursue a case against their attacker, WINDOW will also attend court with, or on behalf, of victims. They recently assisted clients with the Victor Barnard case.
Prevention and advocacy
The other piece WINDOW tries to focus on is prevention and victim advocacy. Although they are all about helping victims, they also want to make sure they are doing everything possible to make sure they are reducing the number of assaults in the area. They provide education for schools and community groups.
On April 4 in honor of SAAM, WINDOW gave a presentation to the county board about their Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE) program and their services. On Friday, they gave another presentation to Golden Horizons on sexual assault and the elderly. They also frequently visit local schools giving various presentations on dating violence, among other things.
How to prevent sexual assault
“Bystander intervention is key. If you see something, say something,” says Lisa Lilja, WINDOW director. A simple intervention or distraction can really help. For men to hold other men accountable, and to call them out on abusive behavior, peer pressure is helpful.
“Tell the community this is real, this is happening in your community; it’s more prevalent than people want to realize,” said LoAnn Westerman, program manager. “If anyone has questions or is worried about a situation, call us.”
Communities and businesses can take action by implementing policies that promote safety, respect and equality.
Other ways for individuals to help prevent sexual assault is by teaching consent to teens and children. Individuals can also model supportive relationships and behaviors, and challenge the societal acceptance of rape and sexual assault. If you do know someone affected by sexual assault, it is important to show support for them and make sure they are receiving enough help.
Other Pine County
In addition to the sexual assault victims, last year in Pine County, WINDOW served 203 women, 28 men and 17 children in domestic violence situations. They assisted with 190 restraining orders and responded to 496 crisis calls. WINDOW also served 795 primary victims and 66 secondary victims of general crime. They provided emergency financial assistance to 78 individuals and assisted 86 individuals with safety planning to request a Domestic Abuse No Contact Order (DANCO) to be modified or dismissed. They also provided supervised visitation and safe exchange services: 384 visitations, 740 hours, 25 families and 95 safe exchanges.
How to help WINDOW
“Financially — and all donations are tax deductible. We are a 501c (3) nonprofit organization,” Lilja said. WINDOW operates on many grants and community donations — without them their services would not be possible.
Churches or local community groups often do drives for certain things victims may need, examples being toilet paper, paper towels, new and gently used luggage and children’s snacks. Depending on the time of year and clients, needs may change. If an organization is thinking of having a drive for WINDOW, it would be best to call and see what items they are running short on.
Another way to help is by supporting their fundraising events. WINDOW has two big fundraising events coming up, bingo and the color run. Coach Bingo will be held on May 20, at 1 p.m., at Tobies Bakery and Restaurant in Hinckley. The cost is $30 in advance, $35 at the door, and is an age 18-plus event. All proceeds will support WINDOW. Winners of every game will win an authentic Coach brand purse or wallet. The color run will be held September 16.
WINDOW also seeks volunteers; call and ask for Westerman or Lilja for more information.
“We’re here to serve the community. We’re happy to hear from our community partners. We can’t do this alone; we count on our county and community partners,” said Lilja.