Dig Baton Rouge

Shining a light

By Leslie D. Rose

In the United States, one in five women and one in 71 men reported experiencing an attempted or completed rape at some time in their lives.

In Louisiana, the rate of forcible rapes in 2009 was estimated at 30.3 per 100,000 inhabitants.

It was that year that President Obama named April Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The annual campaign aims to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. Necessary, because as high as the statistics are, it’s estimated that about 60 percent of sexual assault cases go unreported each year.

Then there’s Baton Rouge Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response, an agency whose vision is to build a healthy community free from oppression and sexual trauma. Headed by executive director Racheal Hebert, the agency provides advocacy, legal services and counseling and support on a daily basis, but this is the month for STAR to shine.

“We’re hoping to create a culture of change so that we can end sexual violence,” Hebert said. “The only way to do that is to raise awareness and get people to speak up and speak out.”

Throughout the month, STAR will host events like a survivor tree lighting, Darkness to Light Stewards of Children training to prevent child abuse, Krava Maga classes for self-defense, a fundraising dinner at Bistro Byronz in Mid-City, and much more.

While Hebert notes each SAAM event is very important, it’s the April 21 screening of The Hunting Ground that may prove to be one of the most pivotal programs of the month. Hosted in conjunction with The Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, LSU Women’s Center, It’s On Us, and LSU, the film documents the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses.

It’s only fitting, as this year’s national focus for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is campus sexual assault.

At the Louisiana flagship university, LSUPD’s most recent annual report (2013) shows just 10 forcible on-campus sex offenses and no non-forcible offenses from 2010 through 2012. The numbers reflect student reports to LSUPD, but over at LSU Health Center’s Lighthouse Program (previously known as Sexual Assault Victim’s Advocacy or SAVA), the numbers are much higher.

Last year STAR struck a partnership at the University to unveil a social messaging strategy for increasing awareness of sexual assault among college students called Consent Campaign 2014. The agency worked with several LSU undergraduate students to develop the social messaging campaign targeted at young adults aged 18 to 28 to educate the community about the meaning of consent.

The campaign, which included images and messages meant to impact young adults’ thoughts and behaviors regarding the connection between alcohol use and sexual activity, opened the gates for STAR’s latest LSU partnership with LSU Law.

“This month we launched our legal services program which is going to provide civil legal services for survivors,” Hebert said.

Spearheaded by STAR’s new director of advocacy and legal service Morgan Lamandre, the program will offer free legal services on cases related to sexual assault, including civil representation and custody hearings as they relate to sexual assault.

“This fall we will also launch a law clinic specifically targeted to train student attorneys on doing civil legal representation for survivors,” Hebert said.

Hebert continued that STAR’s overall legal program, recently launched, is the first in the state of Louisiana – the law clinic is the first in the nation.

“The idea came from a need that we saw in our community,” Hebert said. “We were awarded a grant last October and we immediately began launching services and forming partnerships.”

In celebrating their milestone program, STAR will continue its work in awareness throughout the year, as always. It and other agencies will head the SAAM close-out on April 27 at 6 p.m. with two concurrent events dedicated to remembrance and awareness.

A Purple and Teal reception will be hosted by LaFASA and LCADV at Juban’s restaurant while STAR, along with HAART will be at the Main Library at Goodwood presenting “Shine the Light”, an evening of empowering healthy sexuality though performance art.

“The idea is shining the light on things that we have a stigma on in our community,” Hebert said. “It’s the idea of having people speak up and say ‘this is my experience and this is the way I want my community to respond to it.’”

 STAR Sexual Assault Awareness Month Events
★ 4/16: D2L Stewards of Children training
★ 4/18: Krav Maga self-Defense training seminar
★ 4/20: Bistro For a Cause @ Bistro Byronz
★ 4/21: The Hunting Ground screening
★ 4/22: Evening of Remembrance
★ 4/25: Picnic in the Park
★ 4/27: Shine the Light performance art night
★ 4/27: Purple & Teal Reception @ Juban’s
★ 4/28: Purple & Teal Day at the Capitol

For more information, visit BRSTAR.org

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