Supporting survivors of sexual assault

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BELOIT - Believing, supporting and empowering survivors of sexual assault is what Family Services is doing to honor April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Kelsey M. Hood-Christenson, director of survivor empowerment services, oversees Family Services' Sexual Assault Recovery Program (SARP) as well as the Beloit Domestic Violence Survivor Center (BDVSC). She and her staff have planned events to raise awareness for survivors.

"With any type of awareness, we want to show support for survivors," Hood-Christenson said. "Any time we're able to come together as a community to talk about sexual assault and have events for people to support and believe survivors who have gone through a traumatic event is important."

The biggest event the organization has coming up is Take Back the Night, planned for 5-7 p.m. on Wednesday at Horace White Park. Take Back the Night events occur around the world to combat sexual violence and violence against women. According to the Take Back the Night Foundation, one in three women worldwide experience some form of sexual violence or intimate partner violence, and one in six men experience sexual violence. Less than 50 percent of victims report these crimes.

During the local Take Back the Night, Hood-Christenson said poetry from sexual assault survivors will be read, and a representative will talk about the work being done at Family Services.

"Be prepared to come to raise awareness and be supportive of everyone participating and coming together over a common issue," Hood-Christenson said.

In honor of Denim Day coming up on April 24, Family Services is inviting members of the public to the United Way Blackhawk Region office, 205 N. Main St. #101, Janesville, from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday to decorate denim with positive and supportive messages to survivors.

Hood-Christenson also is encouraging everyone to wear denim on April 24 to show their support for survivors. Denim Day began in Italy in 1992, when an 18-year old girl was raped by her 45-year old driving instructor. After being sentenced to jail time, the Italian Supreme Court overturned the instructor's conviction. The court ruled that since the survivor was wearing tight jeans, the court believed she would've had to help the perpetrator take the jeans off. By removing the jeans, the court found that it was consensual sex. After the verdict, the women in the Italian Parliament launched a protest wearing jeans on the steps of the Supreme Court.

The act eventually turned into Denim Day, a chance for the public to share their support for survivors. Hood-Christiansen said more than 20 years later the event still brings awareness.

At Family Services, Hood-Christenson said there's been an increase in hotline calls from survivors. She said SARP is in need of volunteers who are interested in being on call and responding to survivors in the community. The program serves anyone impacted by sexual assault and human trafficking, including loved ones.

The SARP 24-hour hotline is 866-666-4576, and the BDVSC hotline is 608-365-1119 or 608-364-1065. Survivors of any kind of violence also can use the organization's text line at 608-473-1225.

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