Changing the way our culture handles sexual assault and the methods of prevention were both topics for discussion on Wednesday during a presentation by two members from the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force (SATF) at the Soroptimist International of Ashland Human Rights & Status of Women Committee meeting.
“Every community has some level of tolerance for violence. Challenging that is a key part of what we can do,” said presenter Megan Foster, prevention program coordinator. Alongside her was Michele Roland-Schwartz, executive director of the nonprofit organization.
Foster began her presentation by pointing out that “people tend to view sexual violence as something that’s inevitable, like something that can never actually end, which is not true.”
An instrumental approach to ending this violence according to Foster is through implemented prevention programs in schools and community organizations. “We need risk reduction, we need awareness, but we also need to shift our focus to primary prevention, working to end sexual violence before it happens,” she said.
“Getting victims treatment over time is tertiary care, you need those in place in order for primary care (prevention programs] to work,” said Foster. “Fortunately you already have those effective response systems,” she said, referring to organizations like Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), Community Works, and the You Have Options Program started at the Ashland Police Department.
“It’s understanding that sexual violence isn’t inevitable,” said Roland. “We need to come to a place where it’s presentable.” In her 15-year career with Oregon’s SATF, she has led sexual assault response teams aimed treating survivors of assault and domestic violence as well as forensic nursing programs. From her experiences, Roland noted the importance of treating victims of assault with a high level of respect.
“Ways that I find problematic is if we’re trying to save people or having this paternalistic role in working with them,” she said. “If I’m going into spaces that are not my own, I show up but I don’t take over the conversation, I listen.”
According to a September report by the Women’s Foundation of Oregon, women in Oregon are more likely to be victims of sexual violence than the national average. In addition they have the highest reported rates of depression in the country.
“We need to teach people how to treat survivors so we create a culture where it is easy to come forward and get help,” said Susan Moen, executive director of the Jackson County SART following the presentation. “The people who this happens to have to stop being silenced.” Moen emphasized the importance of keeping the conversation around sexual assault going so communities can acknowledge that it’s happening and work towards a solution. Due to an increased awareness of the issue, the rate at which survivors report assault to the police has risen from 40 percent to more than 80 percent, according to Jackson County SART.
“My goal in life is to work yourself out of a job,” said Foster. “I expect the job to change, but we have a long way to go globally.”
Ashland freelance writer Hannah Jones is editor of The Siskiyou, the Southern Oregon University student-run news website. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.