By Priscilla Liguori 4/19/2016

Massachusetts is implementing new policies to combat human trafficking in recognition of April being Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

“The biggest misconception is that most people are sexually assaulted by strangers – in eight out of ten cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them. The majority of sexual violence is those survivors know and trust,” said Susan Sullivan, Prevention Campaign Specialist at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced that the Commonwealth was reforming its administration so that sexual exploitation and human trafficking is always a reportable condition, including in the circumstance in which a caregiver is a perpetrator.

Also, the Department of Children and Families is partnering with county-based Children’s Advocacy Centers to create multi-disciplinary teams to respond to referrals. A five-year federal grant awarded in 2014 will give training and technical assistance to teams and youth-serving organizations.

“States can take steps to support local rape crisis centers to ensure resources are available for victims, implement effective prevention programs in schools, and ensure that people who perpetrate sexual assault are held accountable and given appropriate help,” said Sullivan.

Polito said the Massachusetts State Police will create a new Human Trafficking Unit and that there will be better interagency coordination and communication between the State Police and the Department of Children and Families.

Sexual assault continues to be a problem nationwide, including in Massachusetts.

According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey date for Massachusetts, “Nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men in MA have ever experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape. Nearly 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men in MA have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lives. More than 1 in 7 women have experienced rape.”

The survey says over 2,000 sexual assault incidents were reported to rape crisis centers across the state between June 2011 and June 2012.

Sexual assault data is not completely accurate because survivors do not always come forward for a variety of reasons, including the concern for safety.

“The way misinformed communities often respond to victims inflicts shame, fear, humiliation and, ultimately, silence. By increasing understanding of the issue, we can more effectively address and ultimately prevent sexual violence,” said Sullivan.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s 2017 budget proposal includes funding for the Executive Office for Public Safety to form domestic violence prevention training communities for local law enforcement. It also added funding to domestic violence specialists and an extra $93,000 ($4.5 million total) to the Department of Public Health’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and Pediatric SANE Program.

Last April, the Commonwealth re-launched the Governor’s Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence with Polito as the chair to set goals and focus on implementing Chapter 260: An Act Relative to Domestic Violence.

“The Council found that there have been substantial accomplishments by agencies in the areas of training, guidance to law enforcement and courts, and development of materials and resources for victims and perpetrators,” said Polito in a letter to Baker.

“We have made a lot of progress in strengthening our laws in Massachusetts to assist victims and hold offenders accountable, but there is more work to be done to put an end to this epidemic,” said Attorney General Maura Healey in a press release. Healey is also a member of the council.

Jane Doe Inc. is the Massachusetts Coalition Against Assault and Domestic Violence. It is the state’s leading organization in responding to the needs of survivors and promoting prevention.

In 2010, Jane Doe Inc. educated over 25,000 people about sexual violence and provided over 4,000 with professional training.

Sullivan said that everyone had a role to play in preventing sexual violence.

“You can help to create safe environments by promoting and modeling healthy attitudes and relationships, speaking up when you hear problematic comments or rape jokes, and believing and supporting survivors,” she explained.

Sullivan stressed that listeners should believe victims when they open up.

“It’s important to understand that victims are never to blame. Support is available for victims of sexual assault and loved ones,” she said.

Massachusetts has rape crisis centers and 24/7 hotlines by region. More information can be found on this website: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/consumer/physical-health-treatment/health-care-facilities/rape-crisis-centers.html

Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month was first nationally observed in 2001, and proclaimed by President Barack Obama in 2009.

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