South Jersey Times – Senate President Steve Sweeney joined with the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA) for a tour of the Salem County Women’s Services and a roundtable discussion on sexual assault prevention and intervention. Participating were Lori Davenport, executive director of Salem County Women’s Services, Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of NJCASA, board members and direct care professionals.
The discussion, part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month observed nationally every April, highlighted the availability of intervention services and the importance of increasing public awareness of sexual assault as an effective means of prevention.
“Sexual violence is a deplorable crime that can have long-lasting, damaging Sweeney. “These physical and verbal attacks and acts of intimidation were too often kept in the shadows because people were afraid or unwilling to talk about them. Public awareness will help erase the stigma and allow for intervention and prevention. I am committed to working with the advocates to provide comfort and support for those in need and to take the actions needed to prevent assaults from occurring.”
Research shows that the lifetime economic burden of rape per victim is $122,461, according to a 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that takes into account the cost of physical and mental health treatment, lost work productivity and other factors. Nearly 40 percent of victims of sexual violence experience problems at work or school as well as difficulty in relationships with friends and family. Sexual assault can also affect a survivor’s long-term physical health, the study found.
There is a high prevalence of these crimes going unreported, oftentimes because the victims are afraid or fear they will not be believed, according to advocates.
“The most important thing for a survivor is to know that what has happened to them is not their fault,” said Lori Davenport. “There’s no such thing as normal when it comes to the time and process of a survivors’ healing. Anxiety, anger, guilt, nightmares, distrust, hypervigilance and lack of interest or feeling numb are frequent reactions.”
Salem County Women’s Services is a non-profit organization that offers assistance for victims of domestic violence and their children through its Sexual Assault Program, Domestic Violence Program and an Alternative To Violence Program. It provides free, confidential support services, including a hotline, crisis counseling, legal advocacy and court preparation.
“We can all use our voices to change the culture to prevent sexual violence,” said Patricia Teffenhart. “Prevention requires addressing the root causes and social norms that allow sexual violence to exist. This April, we’re calling on groups whose influence can play a critical role in changing the culture.”
NJCASA is the statewide umbrella organization that represents organizations like Salem County Women’s Services in Trenton and Washington, D.C. NJCASA is the statewide advocacy and capacity building organization that represents the 21 county-based rape crisis centers and the Rutgers University Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance.