Opinion: Editorial: Empowering Victims of Sexual Assault in Fairfax County

Sexual assault awareness and prevention.

April is sexual assault awareness month. This awareness month is especially relevant with the recent high-profile cases of sexual assault. These stories have taught us that anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. The crime does not discriminate against race, education, status, age or gender. This has started an important conversation among all of us about sexual assault and listening to victims. Fairfax County seeks to empower victims of sexual assault, prevent sexual assault through education, and provide comprehensive services to survivors.

Statistics vary, but many studies show as many as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Sadly, only one third of these crimes are reported to law enforcement according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. While Fairfax County is the safest jurisdiction of its size in the country, sexual violence is still an issue we face. The Fairfax County Police Department received 289 reports of sexual assault in 2017. Aside from prevention, Fairfax County is dedicated to encouraging victims to report the crimes committed against them so justice can be served.

The Department of Family Services' Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (DSVS) 24/7 Hotline (703-360-7273) is one of the resources that provides a safe place for victims of sexual assault. The confidential hotline connects victims or concerned bystanders with trained volunteers. The callers can speak openly to the volunteers who can give them crisis support and point them to the next best step. DSVS also provides counseling services, hospital accompaniment, advocacy services, housing and financial assistance. The hotline is separate from the police department, but they may encourage the victims to contact the police department and guide them through the process of reporting the crime.

The Fairfax County Police Department is highly trained to carefully interview victims and investigate the crime as thoroughly as possible to help them get justice. In fact, the department is co-hosting the second annual Northern Virginia Sex Crimes Investigators Conference this year to offer additional specialized training in sexual assault cases to local officers. Victims services are also provided by department staff to give “immediate and direct support and assistance to crime victims, their families and witnesses suffering emotionally, financially and physically.”

There are several programs geared toward education, awareness, and sexual assault prevention. The County’s Community and Engagement Services team offers several different informational courses and presentations on sexual assault awareness and prevention. One of these classes, called the HYPE (Healthy Youth Prevention Education) Project, teaches teens about intimate partner violence, sexual assault prevention, and healthy relationship skills through hands-on activities, multimedia, role-play exercises and facilitated discussions. Through programs like these we can comprehensively address the issue of sexual assault and come closer to ridding it from our society for good.

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