Believe. It’s a seven-letter word that can make a world of difference to a victim of sexual assault.
“If you’re trusted enough to have them report to you, let them know you believe them and that you’ll help connect them to someone who can help,” said Kathleen McGilvray, CEO of YWCA of Hawaii Island. “Let them know that you believe what they said.”
Hawaii Island residents today can let victims and survivors of sexual violence know they have the community’s support as well as help to raise awareness to end violence against women and girls globally by taking part in YWCA’s a Week Without Violence selfie campaign. Getting involved is simple: Fill out one of the YWCA’s premade signs (available at https://bit.ly/3jbT0gc) and post it on social media with the tag #WWV20.
“A selfie that (says) you believe sex assault victims makes a huge difference in letting them know you will believe them,” said McGilvray on the second day of a Week Without Violence, which continues through Saturday.
That’s important because the usual response to a victim talking about being sexually assaulted is for a person to question what they heard with comments like “are you sure that’s what happened?” or “why were you doing this?”
“A lot of people question it because they’re in shock,” McGilvray said. “The first thing to do when anyone tells you a story like that is not only to thank for them for telling you, but to tell them you believe them.”
For more than two decades, the YWCA has set aside the third week in October as a Week Without Violence, seven days during which YWCAs across the U.S. join their counterparts worldwide as part of a global movement to raise awareness to end violence against women and girls. In addition to YWCA of Hawaii Island, the YWCA Oahu and YWCA of Kauai are taking part this year.
According to YWCA USA, a woman is sexually assaulted every 90 seconds in the U.S. and out of every 100 cases of sexual assault reported, just seven result in a felony conviction. One in four women will experience domestic violence and, on average, more than three women are murdered by their current or former partners in the United States every day.
Typically, the YWCA of Hawaii Island receives one or two cases of sexual assault per month, said McGilvray. Amid the pandemic, however, the number of cases generated has dropped about 30%, and many of the reports are coming in well after the assault.
“We don’t see as many people reporting,” she said, opining some of the decrease in cases could be attributed to isolation amid the pandemic as fewer people are in contact with others.
That lack of contact is particularly concerning for juveniles, McGilvray said. Typically, at this time of year the organization sees an increase in reports of sexual assault as students head back to school, a place they may feel more comfortable reporting an attack to a trusted teacher or other adult.
“For child sex assault, we’re quite worried about that because you could be confined with your attacker and unable to report,” she said adding that while the extent of keiki not being able to report is unknown, “it’s a national trend that people are concerned about.”
The YWCA’s Week Without Violence coincides with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, held each October to unite advocates across the nation in their efforts to end domestic violence.
The monthlong awareness campaign started off as a single Day of Unity conceived by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in October 1981. In 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed; two years later, it was recognized by Congress.
Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another, according to the coalition.
It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats, and emotional abuse.
On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the coalition. In a year’s time, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. Nationally, one in three women and one in four men in the United States have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.
The Hawaii Police Department said it responds to an average of 550 calls for domestic violence per month on Hawaii Island. Despite the pandemic and lockdowns, data supplied by the department showed no increase in calls for service between 2019 and 2020.
“The Hawaii Police Department will investigate all cases of domestic violence, and may refer potential victims of domestic violence to the appropriate agencies for support or assistance, regardless if any physical violence has occurred at that time,” said Detective Brandon Mansur.
Officers are dispatched when violence, or the potential threat of violence, has occurred, he said. Nonetheless, there are often early warning signs to domestic violence, which may include the use of intimidation, emotional abuse, economic abuse, and threats.
“If left unchecked, an abusive relationship can escalate over time, which may ultimately threaten the lives and well-being of the victim, and of any family members involved,” he said. “It is important to get help before the situation gets worse.”
If a victim wants assistance in leaving an abusive relationship, they can call the department’s nonemergency number at (808) 935-3311 or simply approach any police officer for help.
In addition to referring the victim to available services, there may be other forms of assistance that police can provide, such as serving court-ordered restraining orders, or escorting the victim to their residence to collect essential belongings.
“Avoiding and de-escalating a potentially violent situation can be extremely difficult when confronted with a family member or partner,” said Mansur. “The best thing a person can do is reach out to others for help, whether it be friends, family, or available support services. If there is any indication that a situation may become physical, call 911 immediately.”
Support also exists for perpetrators of domestic violence who want to make a change. Agencies like Child and Family Services, Lokahi Treatment Centers and Access Capabilities Inc. offer intervention and counseling services on Hawaii Island.
“It’s a cycle. They all come from some type of trauma or abuse,” said Aurora Delaries, a domestic violence specialist with Child and Family Services.
Prior to joining Child and Family Services, Delaries managed the women’s shelter in West Hawaii giving her a unique outlook on the issue of domestic violence. Coming full-circle in her career has also made her realize the lack of help for perpetrators of doemstic vioelnce.
“It’s not just the survivors, they absolutely need all the support in the world, but the batterers need help too,” she said.
In Hawaii, those services are particularly important as being male or female plays a big role in domestic life.
“Hawaii is infamous for gender roles: a man is supposed to act this way and female is supposed to act that way,” she said.
That learned behavior and belief system needs to be confronted to break the cycle of abuse.
“A lot of the cultures believe you don’t go to authorities, you hide behind what’s happening because it will bring shame to the family name or you are showing disloyalty to the family,” she said. “You keep it insulated because if you bring it out you are disgracing the family.”
It’s that reason, Delaries believes domestic violence is grossly under-reported, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic as victims are being isolated and may not be able to reach out for help.
But help is available 24/7 for victims who want to get out of an abusive situation.
“If they know they want to get out and get to the shelter they can call 322-SAFE (7233) and they will help you get out,” she said for victims in West Hawaii. In East Hawaii, call 959-8864.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald