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The month of April has been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a month focused on raising public awareness about sexual violence and educating communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual assaults. Sexual assault is a pervasive problem in our society. It is estimated that one in six American women has been the victim of sexual assault or attempted assault. However, sexual assault can affect people of any gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or ability.
Perpetrators of sexual assault can be strangers, but far more often they are family members, friends, acquaintances, or someone else known to the victim. While some perpetrators use force to commit a sexual assault, others rely on drugs and/or alcohol to debilitate the people they assault. The most common and prevalent date rape drug is alcohol. Among young people, it is estimated that almost half of all sexual assaults experienced take place under the influence of alcohol.
The use of drugs and/or alcohol in sexual assaults clearly shows how sexual assaults are often planned and premeditated events. Perpetrators use drugs and/or alcohol to incapacitate their victims, ensuring that they will not be able to resist the assault. In addition, assailants know that victims, who have used drugs and/or alcohol, may have difficulty recalling events in sufficient detail to assist in the investigation and prosecution of these cases. Perpetrators also know that victims who have engaged in the use of drugs and/or alcohol may have their credibility questioned should their case go to trial.
We all must understand that if a victim is either unknowingly drugged, or willingly consumes alcohol or drugs, and is then sexually assaulted, the victim is not at fault. The perpetrator of the assault is the only person who is to blame. Perpetrators of sexual assault often engage in predatory behavior.
At the Wisconsin Department of Justice, through the Violence Against Women Resource Prosecutor (VAWRP) project, we are working to promote awareness and training in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases. In March, the Department of Justice will sponsor a one and a half day training for prosecutors devoted entirely to the prosecution of sexual assault cases. This training will cover, among other issues, communicating with victims; working with law enforcement; and the prosecution of alcohol facilitated sexual assaults.
The Department of Justice also regularly provides technical assistance to local district attorneys offices to help them investigate and successfully prosecute sexual assault cases.
The Department through the Office of Crime Victim Services (OCVS) provides federal grant money to sexual assault advocacy centers throughout the state to ensure that victims receive the support they need. OCVS, through the Wisconsin Victim Resource Center, also helps victims understand their rights and access the assistance they deserve.
Working together, we can all raise awareness, change attitudes and help prevent sexual assault.