The national observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is in April, yet Jacksonville kicked off the month days early on Tuesday, with city leaders convening in the atrium of the city hall.
Jacksonville’s Sexual Assault Advisory Council was created in 1998, intending to bring awareness to the issue and to let victims know they have recourse.
And in Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and State Attorney Melissa Nelson, those dealing with these issues have three powerful and committed allies and advocates.
“I stand her with the people behind me, who signed up every day to protect you,” Curry said. “I stand with them in my budgets [and in] my heart.”
Curry read a proclamation, denoting the widespread nature of sexual violence, which he said impacts every person — as a review of the statistics made clear.
One in five women, and one in 71 men will be raped. One in six boys and one in four girls: sexually-assaulted before they turn 18.
And college campuses are no safer, with one in five women and one in 16 men likely to suffer sexual assault.
Curry urged those in attendance to “use our voices to change the culture.”
“Prevention is possible when everyone gets involved,” Curry said.
Melissa Nelson, the region’s state attorney, noted that “these crimes are often some of the most underreported,” urging the community as a whole to “step up and speak out.”
Survivors and loved ones, as well as bystanders, were urged by Nelson to say something if they see something.
Sheriff Williams noted that the JSO participates every year in this awareness raising, and this year asked local students, including fraternities and sororities, to increase awareness.
Williams noted Jacksonville has worked very hard on this front, but there is still a ways to go.
Of 405 sexual battery cases in 2016 locally, there has been a 48 percent clearance rate.
That rate, low as it sounds, compares favorably to the 36 percent rate of clearance nationally.
After the event, Curry summed up the impact.
“Sexual assault is underreported. Victims often feel shame they should not feel. There are resources available to them,” Curry said.
“Today is about letting victims know that we see them, we hear them,” Curry added.