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Progressive Voice: Responding to Sexual Assaults

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Krysta JonesOur community and our society are becoming more aware of and educated about the issue of sexual assaults. This is, in part, due to high-profile cases that have drawn increasing press attention, including national media stories involving the military, college campuses and the National Football League. This issue is a difficult one, with many facets. But it is one that we must address fully and fairly.

According to whitehouse.gov, “Young women… face the highest rates of dating violence and sexual assault. In the last year, one in 10 teens have reported being physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in five young women have been sexually assaulted while they’re in college. While men compromise a smaller number of survivors, male survivors are no less important.”

Locally, Arlington data shows there were 201 sexually related offenses with reported victims in 2011. As is generally true, victims of sexual offenses in Arlington have been predominantly female.

As a single woman living in Arlington, it is something I think about a lot. A few years ago there were disturbing incidents on Arlington’s recreation trails, one by my home. I made the difficult decision to alter my exercise routine, but was pleased with how the county and citizen groups came together to respond to the incidents and address the broader safety issue.

As many of these crimes are not reported, it is hard to know for sure whether there has been an increase or decrease in assaults from year to year. Yet one thing is clear: in 2015, it is imperative that Arlington’s progressive values guide our work in preventing, raising awareness, and addressing sexual assault.

Fortunately, Arlington County has a history of addressing difficult community concerns, and it is responding to the issue of all-too-frequent instances of sexual assault. For example, during my term (2011-2014) on the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women, one of our top priorities was addressing sexual assault and rape.

One priority was establishing a local hotline for sexual assault incidents. Before now, the county’s only hotline for sexual assault incidents was the Virginia Domestic and Sexual Violence Action Alliance in Richmond. Although answered 24/7, the hotline’s location prevented those in urgent need of an immediate response from being connected with a County Violence Intervention staff person for assistance.

In Arlington’s FY 2015 budget, funding was included for a hotline in Arlington. As chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, I was proud to join organizations like Project Peace in supporting an Arlington-based hotline.

According to the county website, Arlington’s Violence Intervention Program (VIP) provides survivor services including safety planning, hospital accompaniment, or support when contacting law enforcement. The VIP program is also committed to preventing abuse from occurring by providing programs to a broad range of adults and adolescents. The VIP also offers consultation and training to allied professionals on the issue.

Arlington community organizations are doing an excellent job of raising awareness about sexual assault. Project Peace, coordinated by Jo Johnson, addresses violence issues. Caroline Romano, founder of Rally Against Rape, says that she was “outraged by increasing incidents of groping (sexual battery), indecent exposure, street harassment, and rape, and brought together activists to share ideas for combatting sexual violence and to plan Northern Virginia’s first Rally Against Rape and Take Back the Night event.”

Our legislators are also responding more assertively to the issue. Arlington delegation members Del. Rip Sullivan (D) and Sen. Barbara Favola (D) have taken a lead role on legislation in the General Assembly regarding how Virginia universities should address sexual assaults — including whether colleges should be required to allow those reporting sexual assault to take their claims off campus and helping victims who want to make sure that their assault is known to someone even if they do not want to officially report an assault.

These issues are complex, and the problematic Rolling Stone article about the University of Virginia shows that there are no easy answers.

Yet we cannot forget that sexual assault or rape can be devastating experience. Many survivors are never the same after the violation. As we seek to raise awareness and eliminate sexual assault in society, I am confident that we can look to Arlington County’s programs, legislators and community leaders to guide the way in solving this issue. Our core progressive values dictate that we seek to make our community safer for all Arlingtonians, no matter how difficult the challenge.

Krysta Jones is the founder and CEO of the Virginia Leadership Institute, and immediate past chair of the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women.

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