CAPSEA focusing on sexual assault education, prevention

April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a period in which outreach groups place extra emphasis on raising public awareness about sexual violence and educating people and the public at large about how to prevent it. "Why they concentrate on April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month-- it’s the month when all of us across the United States and across the world-- it’s the month that we really target a lot of public relations so that we’re getting the word out there to let folks know that sexual violence is not all right, that we all need to be a part of prevention, and this year’s theme really concentrates on the primary prevention piece, and that is what we’re really trying to push, that all of us in our communities need to work together to be able to see the signs and symptoms of sexual assault," said Billie Jo Weyant, executive director of Citizens Against Physical, Sexual and Emotional Violence, Inc., which serves residents of Elk and Cameron counties. "If you’re out in public somewhere and something makes you uncomfortable, [we want it to be so] that you know who to contact to ask a little more, or a way that you can intervene safely to help somebody else, whether it be calling 911 or just giving somebody a quick referral to an agency like CAPSEA. We want to make it across the board so that more information’s going to be out there." Statistics show that a sexual assault crime can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 20 percent of the population has experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. Additionally, most of the time the perpetrators are not strangers. “Eighty-five percent of individuals know their attacker when it comes to sexual assault, rape; 15 percent don’t. And that goes for children also-- children and adults,” Weyant said. CAPSEA offers a variety of assistance for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse and assault, including an emergency shelter, referrals to other agencies who can help, and a sexual assault counselor in both Elk and Cameron County to provide support for victims. Weyant said the shelter is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and there is a toll-free hotline people may call to get information and to speak with someone confidentially, whether a victim or a concerned friend. "If it’s a friend of someone who’s been victimized, they explain that it’s confidential, everything they will talk about, and that if that person [who has been assaulted or abused] chooses to come to CAPSEA, we will do everything we can to help them," Weyant said. “We make sure everybody knows that they’re safe [when they are referred to us].” The Elk County hotline number is 814-772-1227. The agency's toll-free hotline is 800-226-4759. Weyant said anyone is welcome to call the hotline, even if they just have a question about abuse or sexual assault or something they may have observed. Pick up a copy of the Saturday, April 14, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.