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Community raises awareness for National Sexual Assault Awareness month

Sexual Abuse Awareness Month

POCATELLO, Idaho - Today kicks-off National Sexual Assault Awareness month, and local crisis officials are saying this issue is more prevalent within the community than what most people realize.

Family Services Alliance interim executive director Sarah O'Banion said the help center takes-in more than 1,400 new cases each year, helping both victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

"It is very scary," O'Banion said. "When I think about what it would be like to walk into our doors, I have a lot of respect for everyone that comes in for help."

O'Banion said one in four women and one in six men are sexually assaulted at one point in their lives. However, most people do not report these cases because they feel a great sense of shame and embarrassment.

"Every person I talk to experiences some kind of guilt or some kind of, 'I could have done this differently.' But the perpetrator is the only one who could end sexual assault and then we as a community can do things to try and intervene and reduce sexual violence."

She said, it's most common where the victim knows the assaulter, and most cases aren't random attacks.

"There's kind of a myth that sexual assault only occurs with a stranger jumping out of a bush. That can happen, but most of the time someone knows the person that assaults them," O'Banion added.

In fact, the Bright Tomorrows child advocacy center is helping more kids than they have in the recent past, performing interviews for 243 cases this past year alone. Out of those, at least 85% are sexual assault cases.

Bright Tomorrows executive director Kathy Downs said that one in ten children are victims of sexual assault, and only one in ten kids will come forward and say something.

She said a lot of times, kids have a hard time coming forward since the perpetrator is often someone they know as well.

"If it is someone they love and trust, then they don't want to betray that person, or maybe they had been threatened to not tell," Downs said. "Sometimes, they are also worried about how it's going to impact their family, or impact their life."

She said this issue often times goes undetected, but it's real and it's prevalent.

"Most of the time, the impression is that it doesn't happen here in Idaho, or in Pocatello (which is a wonderful community), but it does happen. It's something that can be very secretive and it's something that happens in private and so unfortunately it goes undetected."

With this being such a pertinent issue and Bright Tomorrows being the only child advocacy center in southeastern Idaho, Downs worked with state lawmakers to help push new legislation forward that will allow more attention given toward these centers, and she hopes to see more centers such as her own popping-up throughout the rest of the state.

O'Banion said she has seen an increasing number of people coming to FSA to report crimes related to human sex trafficking here in the community, which is another form of sexual assault. 

"Most of it is domestic minor trafficking, so children under 18, their bodies are being sold. And we don't have statistics relating to human trafficking because it's very, very under-reported," O'Banion said.

Both FSA and Bright Tomorrows will hold events for anyone in the community who wants to learn more about this issue.

On April 30, Bright Tomorrows will help host a conference to teach parents what signs to look for that may indicate that a child has been a victim of sexual assault.

On Friday and Saturday evening FSA and members throughout the community will perform the play, 'The Vagina Monologues' to raise awareness. The play will take place at the Portneuf Valley Brewery and the money raised will go toward sexual assault services.

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