GOSHEN—Catchy phrases like “No means no” and “If you don’t get it then you don’t get it” flashed across a large screen at the Emergency Services auditorium in Goshen, along with pictures of members of government and law enforcement holding signs with written statements about sexual assault.
“It’s on us to take responsibility for our actions and our inactions” wrote Port Jervis Mayor Kelly Decker on his sign. “It’s up to us to stand up to those who tell us it’s not our business,” wrote former county Department of Mental Health Commissioner, Chris Ashman.
A video depicting situations of sexual assault played to Lady Gaga singing, “You don’t know how it feels till it happens to you.”
The signs, phrases, and video were all part of the launch of a county-wide initiative by the District Attorney’s office to bring awareness to issues of sexual assault.
“I know it’s a tough subject to talk about, but we have to talk about it,” said District Attorney David Hoovler at the Dec. 3 launch. “It’s on us to stop sexual assault.”
Orange County is joining a national campaign called “It’s On Us” that came out of a partnership between the White House and the Generation Progress in 2014 to raise awareness about sexual violence.
From that campaign came over 1,000 events on 480 college campuses in 48 U.S. states, said national Campaign Manager, Kristin Avery, who was in Goshen for the launch.
And while the campaign has reached over 90 other groups and companies, and thousands of individuals, Orange County is the first county to be a part of it, Avery said.
“The solution to ending sexual assault begins with all of us,” she said. “We are excited to have Orange County join us in this movement.”
Representatives from Mount Saint Mary, SUNY Orange, and West Point spoke about initiatives that were already underway on their campuses, and Hoovler said the county would be looking to them for advice as he took the campaign into high schools, businesses, and eventually throughout the community.
“Community fairs, national night out—places like that you’ll see the district attorney’s office, you’ll see members of my staff and we’ll be talking abut this program.”
Change of Culture
At the launch were representatives from law enforcement, schools, the military, non-profits like Safe Homes of Orange County, the Department of Social Services, and state, county, and local lawmakers.
The fact that so many institutions were present that day and all talking openly about sexual assault was like Christmas for Nadia Allen, the executive director of the Mental Health Association in Orange County. She said when she started working on this 25 years ago, “ears were closed, eyes were closed.”
The biggest change from 25 some years ago, she said, is how many men were in the room that day. When she first started, it was mostly women who were working on sexual assault issues. To look out at the crowd and see as many if not more men than women, she said, signifies a big shift in the culture.
“It’s an exciting time when males are talking about ending sexual assault,” she said.
County executive Stephen Neuhaus was away on a trip, but said in a pre-recorded message he was committed to working with the District Attorney’s office on the campaign. He pointed to the county’s commitment just this year of filling an $85,000 funding gap in the Rape Crisis Center in Orange County as one of the concrete way’s the county has stepped up to the plate.
“We were poised with this horrible potential of only offering rape crisis services between 9 and 5, no evenings or weekends,” Allen recalled. Now it is able to stay open 24 hours day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.
While different organizations are doing their part to provide the services for victims of sexual assault, Hoovler asked each person to do their part by taking the “It’s On Us” pledge.
He invited people to sign a banner with the It’s On US logo, put up It’s On Us posters, spread awareness through social media, and most importantly, have conversations about it.
He encouraged everyone to go to ItsOnUs.org to take the pledge, which is to “not to be a bystander to the problem but to be part of the solution.”
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