Palm Beach County Victim Services empowers survivors during Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Palm Beach County Victim Services empowers survivors during Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Palm Beach County Victim Services empowers survivors during Sexual Assault Awareness Month (Source: WPTV)

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Palm Beach County Victim Services is hosting a series of events to shine a light on the free resources available to the community.

On Tuesday, a drive-through exhibit was held in West Palm Beach with a survivor art installation entitled “What Were You Wearing?”

It features the stories of five survivors and showcases the clothing items they wore on the day of the attack.

The purpose of the installation is to help shift the cultural attitude that a survivor could have prevented an attack by wearing something less revealing.

Sexual assault—including sexual harassment, domestic violence, gender-based harassment, and stalking, can happen to anyone, at any time.

“That’s why it’s so important to have events like this to let people know that there is hope,” said Nicole Bishop, director of Victim and Justice Services for Palm Beach County. “There is help out there, there is a whole community of people here to support survivors of sexual assault.”

According to the CDC, sexual violence affects millions of people each year in the United States. Researchers know that the numbers underestimate this problem because many cases are unreported. Victims may be ashamed, embarrassed, or afraid to tell the police, friends, or family about the violence. Victims may also keep quiet because they have been threatened with further harm if they tell anyone or do not think that anyone will help them.

CDC has additional data that shows:

  • Sexual violence is common. More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 38 men have experienced completed or attempted rape and 1 in 14 men was made to penetrate someone (completed or attempted) during his lifetime.
  • Sexual violence starts early. One in 3 female rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old and 1 in 8 reported that it occurred before age 10. Nearly 1 in 4 male rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old and about 1 in 4 reported that it occurred before age 10.
  • Sexual violence is costly. Recent estimates put the cost of rape at $122,461 per victim, including medical costs, lost productivity, criminal justice activities, and other costs.

Right now, HB 673 / SB 1002 (Gail’s Law) is making its way through the state legislature and gaining support from both sides of the aisle.

The legislation calls for the statewide tracking system for rape kits, a process that’s already implemented in 30 other states and Washington D.C.

According to Rep. Emily Slosberg (D–Boca Raton) the proposal would cost about $1 Million to create, implement, and operate if signed into law.

Florida has made strides to clear the backlog of untested sexual assault kits in recent years.

“Now in the state of Florida, we're testing every kit,” said Julie Weil, executive director of Not Just Me Foundation.

Weil is a survivor, survivor advocate, and a leading force behind the effort to change legislation in order to expedite the backlog of untested rape kits.

It requires rape kits to be sent to the crime lab within 30 days. The testing process must be completed within 120 days.

“Now the next step we're moving on to is the tracking bill,” said Weil. “If it passes, then survivors can have some kind of control or touchstone to know where their DNA is, so DNA kits don't get lost anymore.”

Weil believes a statewide database should be created to track the sexual assault kit from the time it’s collected through the criminal justice process.

Supporters believe the ability to monitor the status of the kit will add an extra layer of accountability.

Advocates also say the tracking system also has the potential to bring a survivor one step closer to justice.

“It’s a little bit of control that you’re handing back over to a survivor,” Weil said.

For information about free resources available or to see the list of events taking place during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Palm Beach County, click here.

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