By David Mazzenga
WAYNE/PIKE COUNTY— With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), it is not only a pertinent time to remind readers of the ever present threat victims face daily, but also relevant to remind said victims that help is still out there and Victims’ Intervention Program (VIP) is still working hard to help those in need.
While services can be maintained during COVID-19 social distancing measures, the stay at home order may be providing additional difficulties for victims.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “Abuse is about power and control. When survivors are forced to stay in the home or in close proximity to their abuser more frequently, an abuser can use any tool to exert control over their victim, including a national health concern such as COVID-19.
“In a time where companies may be encouraging that their employees work remotely, and the CDC is encouraging “social distancing,” an abuser may take advantage of an already stressful situation to gain more control.”
″[Abusers] are already so much about power and control, this just gives them that much more opportunity,” VIP Executive Director Michele Minor Wolf stated. While stress in and of itself does not cause battery, with stress levels increased due to the virus, “If you’re already an abuser, it might bring it on more,” Wolf added.
She explained there were many assumptions at the start of the stay at home order that calls for domestic violence and sexual assault would surge given the forced close proximity of abusers to their victims.
“That’s not what’s happening,” said Wolf. “I think what’s happening, when it first gets bad, everything’s kind of quiet. But then after people are in their homes for a while, then our hotline might start exploding, but it’s not right now.”
She explained with abusers and victims now mandated to remain in the same space at all times, it is more difficult for victims to find a window of opportunity to reach out for help in a safe manner.
With a stay at home order in place, victims are unable to escape their abusers, “Especially…children,” said Wolf. “Sometimes these children are either witnesses of violence or they may be a victim themselves, whether it’s sexual abuse or domestic violence, and there’s no escape for them. Whereas before, they at least got to go to school and could have a break there…”
For as long as the stay at home orders are in place, Wolf advises victims of abuse and assault do their best to self care.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, basic needs such as getting enough sleep and enough food are some of the simplest things one can to to self care. Additionally, taking care to be active and do activities one enjoys are other ways to practice self care.
Tips on how to self care are available on VIP’s website, vipempowers.org.
Additionally, help is available by phone at 570- 253-4401.
Sexual assault, or rape, affects nearly one in five women (18.3 percent) and one in 17 men (1.4 percent) in the United States, according to statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). More than half of the female victims listed were raped by their partner and 40.8 percent by an acquaintance.
Of those male victims, more than half were raped by an acquaintance and 15.1 percent by a stranger.
As defined by the Office of Women’s Health, sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or activity, including intercourse, where one party does not consent to the activity.
Rape and other sexual assaults occur by means of violence, coercion, or use of intoxicants including alcohol and date rape drugs.
In the interest of demonstrating the importance of consent, this year’s SAAM theme is “I ask.”
Consent, according to the WHO, is a clear “yes” to whatever activity, sexual or otherwise, is going on. One cannot give consent if they are unconscious, threatened intoxicated, or unaware of what is going on.
Additionally, minors and those with intellectual disabilities hindering their situational comprehension cannot consent to sexual activity.
Additionally, consent can be revoked at any time during an encounter.
Annual Take Back the Night events held in service of SAAM are eye-opening experiences to the plight faced by sexual assault survivors.
Wolf stated that, while this year’s Take Back the Night has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when it is finally held, it will help remind everyone that sexual assault is a problem year-round.
“Even though our events got postponed for April,” she said, “this is a testament to the fact that sexual assault happens all the time.”
For those who are victims of rape, other sexual assaults and victimizing crimes, VIP offers assistance in sheltering survivors and their children, supporting them during medical testing and court procedures, and helping them get back on their feet out from under the thumb of an abuser.
Even though the offices are closed due to the Governor’s Stay at Home order, VIP staff are working from home to help those in need.
Victims can call 570- 253-4401 24 hours per day, seven days per week to get help.
Additionally, those in need can visit VIP’s newly updated website, vipempowers.org, for further information and means of getting help.
In adapting to new ways of helping survivors during the COVID-19 lockdown, VIP has set up HIPPA- compliant e-chats through Zoom.
“We are taking as many precautions as possible while still being able to provide crisis services,” said Wolf.
Even with social distancing procedures in place, VIP workers will still accompany victims to the hospital for check ups and medical evaluations, even by phone if necessary. VIP is also still able to meet electronically with school students to provide services.
“We will keep going forward,” said Wolf.
Supporting those who support others
While VIP’s office operations remain intact, their spring fundraisers took a hit due to COVID-19 social distancing measures. The annual geranium sale was canceled, said Wolf, noting checks will be returned to those who bought flowers.
As of now, VIP’s fall mums sale is still planned, as is their annual fundraiser, Jeans and Jewels, currently scheduled for October 23.
Those interested and able to help VIP meet its funding needs can donate to the organization through its website (vipempowers.org) or Facebook. Online shoppers can also list VIP as a donation recipient through Amazon Smile at no additional charge to their purchase.
Other information about abuse and sexual assault is available from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (www.pcar.org), the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (www.nsvrc.org), and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.thehotline.org).