STESA hosts campaign to raise awareness
Even in a pandemic year of lockdowns, social distancing and limited gatherings, men and women across the country still face a threat that existed long before COVID-19.
The threat of sexual assault.
Across the U.S., millions of people are facing unthinkable pain and trauma as a result of sexual assault.
According to the CDC, more than one in three women have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetime. Other CDC data suggests that one in five women have experienced attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
Instances of sexual assault are pervasive not only in the U.S., but in California specifically. In a 2019 study, researchers from UC San Diego found that 86% of women and 53% of men in the state reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault in their lifetime.
The painful effects of sexual assault are even felt in Santa Barbara County, where the organization Standing Together to End Sexual Assault exists to help victims and their families address the trauma of assault. STESA offers rapid-response care through a 24-hour hotline for victims, as well as long-term counseling programs for them and their families.
“(Sexual assault) is happening within our county and home town,” Bianca Orozco, community education coordinator for STESA, told the News-Press. “Oftentimes, people don’t feel like they can report it … That may be why we don’t hear it as often, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
She added that even during the pandemic, victims of sexual assault were harassed online or through social media.
“Just because we’re not in person, doesn’t mean it stopped,” Ms. Orozco said.
With Sexual Assault Awareness Month starting in April, the staff at STESA are championing a campaign called “Create to Prevent,” which is calling upon the community to submit some kind of art that raises awareness and educates about sexual assault.
All community members are welcome to participate, but the organization is aiming to get youth involved in this effort.
Whether it’s a poem, a painting, a drawing, a song or even a TikTok video, STESA is aiming to raise awareness about sexual assault and topics such as consent, support for survivors and boundaries through this campaign.
Ultimately, Ms. Orozco hopes the community will learn about preventative measures and hopes the art will turn the conversation from “victim blaming” to a more supportive approach.
Though sexual assault remains a pervasive problem, officials at STESA are confident that future incidents can be prevented with intervention.
“A lot of the ideas we have that are so normalized in our society contribute to sexual assault,” Ms. Orozco said, pointing to examples of people asking “what was the victim wearing” following an assault as a form of victim-blaming.
STESA Program Director Idalia Gomez echoed this sentiment, saying that sexual assault is a behavior that is “learned” in society.
“We know that if it is something that is learned, it can be something that is unlearned,” Ms. Gomez told the News-Press.
To teach sexual assault prevention, Ms. Orozco and other education coordinators give presentations at area middle and high schools.
By teaching consent and empathy starting in middle school, the staff at STESA hope rates of sexual assault will drop dramatically in years to come.
“We know that if we go (into schools) early on, we know these individuals will not perpetrate sexual assault if they are empathic individuals,” Ms. Gomez said.
Empathy, Ms. Gomez said, is a key factor in helping a survivor heal.
When a survivor is not believed, it hinders the healing process and even deters victims from coming forward, she added.
“I think one of the most important messages that we can give to the community is to believe survivors and support survivors in the way they move forward with their cases.”