Every single day in the Arkansas River Valley, people are faced with sexual assault and domestic violence. It’s not just scenes you see on television. And it’s not just happening in some faraway locale. It’s reality, and it’s here and now.

Both sexual assault and domestic violence regularly occur in the Fort Smith area. These are crimes, they are tragic, and they can affect everyone in the community.  

In fact, 1 out of every 4 women will be raped during their lifetime, and 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted. Men are also victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Many reports show that 1 in 10 men will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. No matter what the numbers are and from which source they are obtained, one victim is too many. 

The aforementioned statistics are staggering and shocking. In fact, according to Susan Johnson, assistant director of the Crisis Intervention Center (CIC) here in Fort Smith, the CIC performed over 72 exams in 2016 which is up from 36 in 2015. Johnson said that although one is far too many, there is not necessarily an increase of violence but perhaps better awareness. She commended their prevention team that goes into high schools and colleges sharing information with students. 

“The work that we are doing in prevention has created a great outreach to the community,” Johnson said. “We are educating the community and especially our young people on what is a proper relationship and what is not.”  In addition to the local awareness program and ways of reporting, there has been an increase of national awareness which cultivates better awareness in all of our communities. 

During a recent talk with Leadership Fort Smith, Allison Davis, executive director of CIC, shared much information about the local crisis and services that her organization provides. She illustrated the prevention piece of their services by sharing a very vivid example of sexual consent. Allison played a Youtube video entitled “Cup of Tea (clean)”. 

On a cautionary note, if you go to Youtube to watch the video, please be advised to play the “clean” version or you will hear some choice language. The video uses a very simple analogy of tea in place of sex driving home a very common sense example that if a person doesn’t want a cup of tea, don’t make them drink the tea. 

Another video that was part of a national awareness program is entitled “What if a bear kills one in 5 people?”  The video portrays a group of 5 guys hanging out when a bear arrives at the door. Obviously, sexual violence is tragic and no laughing matter, but these videos do provide education to the community using examples that make complete sense. For example, if a person knew that a bear was going to enter a room with 5 people, would it be okay to accept that one of the 5 people would be killed by the bear? 

Sexual violence has many lasting effects on a survivor, including psychological, emotional, and physical. Survivors often experience great depression from the emotional and psychological reactions to the sexual assault and rape that was experienced. Trauma many times occurs in the present even during a flashback giving the survivor the feeling that the flashback is taking place at that moment. 

Feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear are often experienced following sexual violence and may haunt the survivor for many years following the violence. Sexual violence may also have short term or long term health consequences for the survivor.

To learn more about how you can prevent sexual assault and domestic violence, visit the following webpages: Donald W. Reynolds Crisis Intervention Center – fscic.org; Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network -- rainn.org; and United Way of Fort Smith Area – unitedwayfortsmith.org.

 

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Colleen Perry

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