Sexual Assault Awareness Week: ‘It’s On Us’ to self-educate and work for prevention and empowerment

Gov. Kate Brown recently proclaimed April 2018 to be National Child Abuse Prevention month.

I have spent the last five years as the director of Community Coordination for a child abuse prevention initiative, Keeping Families Together.

I retired in 2012 after working 36 years as a teacher and administrator for Hood River County School District at all levels. But my most recent work, while still involved in K-12 positive behavioral supports, has been primarily with early childhood education and agencies that work with ages 0-5. This work has been in support of families before there is any abuse or neglect.

Oregon as a state is working to address risk factors for child abuse and is working to provide more targeted approaches when working with children beginning in early childhood. I represent Hood River County on the governance board for the Four Rivers Early Learning Hub, which includes Hood River County as well as Wasco, Sherman, Wheeler and Gilliam counties.

Sexual assault is a form of abuse that can target our youth as well as adults. Hood River County and the City of Hood River have declared April 22-28 as the second annual Sexual Assault Awareness Week (SAAW). One of the major goals of the week is to communicate a sense of empowerment to youths to speak up and intervene when they are experiencing sexual assault, or they are aware of it happening to another person. This week is an extension of a national movement called “It’s On Us.”

This movement started in September 2014 and was launched following recommendations from the White House Task Force to Prevent Sexual Assault. “It’s On Us” asks everyone — students, community leaders, parents, organizations and companies to recognize that conversations need to change. It is present on over 500 college campuses and has moved into high schools and communities. Their pledge is:

To RECOGNIZE that non-consensual sex is sexual assault. To IDENTIFY situations in which sexual assault may occur. To INTERVENE in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. To CREATE an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

Sexual assault ultimately refers to any sexual assault where consent is not obtained or freely given. Most often the perpetrator is someone know to the victim — a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Week, there will be many activities going on in our schools to increase awareness and provide tools for students. On April 23, there will be two community presentations, both the Columbia Gorge Community College Hood River Campus. There will a brown bag lunch presentation at noon, followed by a 6 p.m. presentation the same day. There will be an opportunity for discussion and question and answer time.

It has been my experience that this community rises up and joins in wherever support is needed. Please join our community in support of this critical and important week!

Terri Vann is a founder and director of Community Coordination, with Keeping Families Together, a non-profit coalition working to promote healthy families in the Gorge.

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