Moving forward, Victims don’t have to walk alone

Editors note: Last names were not used to protect those who assist victims at the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter.

While Brookings transitions from winter into spring, the community is making a transition to being more aware of sexual assault in Brookings and on campus because April is Sexual Assault Awareness month.

During April and into May, the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter is hosting a variety of activities to bring awareness to sexual assault and other related topics. Their biggest event is a half-mile walk called “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” which will take place May 1 at 6:30 p.m. in Downtown Brookings. Participants will be able to register and pick up their shoes April 30.

According to Sara, the director of finance and outreach at Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter, the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event is an international event to bring awareness to sexual assault, rape and gender violence; the event is also a fundraiser for the shelter.

“The goal is that … attitudes will shift and perspectives will evolve and people will start talking about things that are difficult to talk about,” Sara said.

Sexual assault is considered any sexual contact that is unwanted.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, an American is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds.

Cora Olson, a detective from the South Dakota State University Police Department assigned to criminal investigations, said the main priority of the SDSUPD is the “safety and well-being of the victim.”

“We assess immediate physical, medical and emotional needs. We do this by listening to the victim about what happened,” Olson said. “Each case is very different, therefore the needs and options are different depending on what happened. … The important thing to address is that a victim may not know all the things we can do to help if they don’t report.”

If students see a sexual assault in progress, Olson said to attend to the needs of the victim first then report the situation.

The Eastern Plains Sexual Assault Response Team is a group of interconnected individuals who could work in various areas to help with victims of sexual assault. Members include police force on and off campus, counselors, nurses, attorneys and others.

“[The Eastern Plains Sexual Assault Response Team] can help the victim do the next step,” Olson said.

In the 2014-15 school year, there has been one instance of sexual assault with person of consenting; attempted rape on Nov. 23, 2014. This case is currently going through the court process.

“When [SDSUPD] have a report and we can hold an offender accountable, we will,” Olson said.

Other options for victims include the Brookings Hospital which has Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners that are trained to handle sexual assault situations. If victims feel unsafe in their current housing situation alternative housing can be found for them.

“Reporting does not mean a victim will be forced through a court process, however we will hold those accountable when the victim is ready. … Last, we need to put an end to sexual assault, but also we need to end victim blaming,” Olson said. “We need to focus the blame on those who have the rapist mentality and stalk out victims. It is not the potential victims job to not be assaulted, it is the perpetrator’s job not to victimize.”

The Brookings Domestic Abuse shelter is able to help victims of sexual assault by going to the clinic after an assault and help with protection orders when necessary.

“We can just be advocates for [the victim] whether that be in the examination room in the clinic or … talking to the police,” Sara said.

While the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event is not taking place during Sexual Assault Awareness month, the walk’s aim is to make talking about sexual assault more common.

“How did we get into a dynamic in our communities, in our social environment that allows people to perpetuate sexual assault?” Sara said. “What can be do as bystanders and what can be start to help victims and how can we start thinking of ways to try and prevent it.”

The “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event and April as Sexual Assault Awareness is used to create an awareness and conversation about sexual assault so that victims don’t feel alone as they work to overcome the sexual assault.

“[W]hat we hope the biggest message is that these men [walking in the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event] turning out in high heels will be a sign that victims don’t have to walk alone in their road to recovery and in …  bringing justice to the crime,” Sara from the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter said. “[T]he men walking are saying ‘I support victims in my community. I am a supporter.’”