TODAY'S NEWS

It’s all about Choices - April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Page News and Courier

LURAY — Those deep-teal ribbon magnets that you'll be seeing on law enforcement vehicles this month are meant to drive home the serious nature of a topic that "people are not very comfortable speaking about," says Tina Knupp.

Knupp has spent the past 13 years as the sexual assault program coordinator/victim advocate for Choices, Council on Domestic Violence for Page County. As her title makes clear, that "uncomfortable" subject is sexual assault, and April is the month designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The 2017 national campaign theme is "Engaging New Voices," and, to that end, the focus will be on getting coaches, faith leaders and parents, among others, involved in the goal of preventing sexual assault. To assist in that effort, Choices is sponsoring a training session April 20 at 11:30 a.m. at the Luray United Methodist Church, 1 W. Main St.

The message on the ribbons on police cruisers is even more direct: End Sexual Violence. Officers' vehicles will become "traveling billboards" for a month, "bringing it out, saying it's here," said Luray Police Chief Bow Cook. "Even for that little bit, something is better than nothing," Cook added.

Officers are trained to be vigilant and observant all year, but a dedicated month with a potentially lifesaving message allows those who "are in the public eye so much" to step up public awareness.

Indeed, April's designation as Sexual Assault Awareness Month "makes us more aware of the problem we are facing," Page County Sheriff Chad Cubbage said. "A lot of the time these offenses are not reported," Cubbage said. "If people are made aware of the crime, it increases the likelihood that someone may report the crime." The magnetic ribbons will be on as many as 18 Sheriff's Office vehicles.

Knupp said the message Choices hopes to spread throughout the community and to all those affected by sexual violence — victims as well as family and friends — is, "We are here. We have 24/7 coverage, and we are non-judgmental. Our job is to help you heal."

Choices, which had its start in people's homes in 1986, partners with a variety of other organizations, including law-enforcement and other social-service agencies, to ensure that assault victims get the services they need. "Whatever they want to happen is what I help them work toward," Knupp said. "It may be as simple as making sure she [the victim] has supper that evening."

For the 120-130 victims of sexual violence that the center encounters yearly, there are a wealth of services available, from providing a safe place to stay to offering peer counseling and crisis support to making legal and medical connections. The center's services are free and confidential.

Knupp said she hopes that the attention focused on sexual violence will serve to inform the community that it exists in Page County and to shine a light on a subject often shrouded in shame and embarrassment.

"I hope that it opens some discussion somewhere that will lead people to us if they need us," said Knupp.



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