I’m very encouraged by our county’s efforts to address the problem of sexual assault in our community. The first step towards a solution is to become aware, and Hood River County is taking this on in a big way, with a full week of events that will occur in our schools, churches and elsewhere during our county’s first-ever Sexual Assault Awareness Week (SAAW) April 2 through April 8.
For 12 years, I’ve prosecuted offenders who commit sexual assault in our community. In my experience, the victim knows his or her abuser over 99 percent of the time. Most often, the offender is a family member, friend, acquaintance or schoolmate, which means that many others are also harmed by the sexual assault suffered by the primary victim of the crime. I have seen families fractured, careers destroyed and lives forever changed by these crimes. As horrible as the attack is for the victim, this type of crime has a unique ripple effect that also harms the friends and loved ones of both the offender and the victim.
In recent years, I’ve seen an increase in crimes involving sexual violence among teens. Increasingly, social media is used to stigmatize and bully the victim, which often causes the victim to leave school and receive their education at home. This can’t be tolerated. If adults see this happening, it should be stopped and reported. Statistics show that a very small percentage of victims ever report these crimes; their bravery should be encouraged and supported.
Carrie Rasmusen, deputy district attorney
Hood River County
A few weeks ago, my father sat me down at the kitchen table and talked to me about sexual assault rates in colleges. He told me that nearly 25 percent of female undergraduates experience sexual violence on campuses around the country, and that because I would soon be enrolling in a university, I needed to be aware of the threat. But he didn’t know that, as a teenage girl, the threat of sexual assault is nearly always in the back of my mind.
Last January, one of my friends was raped by a peer. She was 17 years old. It was heartbreaking to watch her struggling with court cases, deeply personal questions from the opposition, and ridicule from people who didn’t even know her. The event made me realize that sexual assault isn’t just something that happens in big cities; it happens here, in our own community, and in our high school, where almost one in seven juniors reported being pressured into sexual activity in 2015.
I believe that it is our responsibility as a community to be aware of the problem at hand, to understand consent, and to engage in open and honest conversations about sexual assault, because even the smallest of efforts can help prevent future attacks. When we hear about a victim, we need to remember to support them in whatever way we can. Failure to do so is unacceptable.
As parents, ministers and people concerned about the wellbeing of our community, we are happy to learn that Hood River County will soon be holding it’s first-ever Sexual Assault Awareness Week (April 2-8).
Sadly, sexual assault is not an isolated problem or something that occurs only in urban areas. It is happening right here in our own neighborhoods and schools. In 2016, Hood River city and county law enforcement officers investigated 47 cases — most of them involving sexual violence by someone that the victim knew. Every incidence of violence has a dramatic ripple effect. It hurts the victims, their family members and friends, and eventually results in all of us feeling unsafe. We encourage other parents and community members to participate in awareness week activities, learn more about this problem and speak up — so that we might create a caring community of “upstanders” (not bystanders) who take action to keep our children and neighbors safe.
Rev. John Boonstra
Rev. Vicky Stifter