WAVI helps raise awareness of sexual assault victims - KOTA Territory News

WAVI helps raise awareness of sexual assault victims

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Working Against Violence Inc. or WAVI held a press conference on Tuesday to help raise awareness of sexual assault victims.

The advocacy group is teaming with members of law enforcement and the military to help educate victims and connect people with resources they may not have knew existed.

Pennington County State Attorney Mark Vergo says we must respond as a community to keep people from being victimized, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

"A lot of it has to do with the response we make as a community before the assault ever occurs. With the empowerment of the community that we create that allows a person not to be isolated, not to be vulnerable, long before they ever get targeted as a sexual assault victim," Vergo said.

He also said the state legislature has clarified and simplified rules for police officers when dealing with domestic violence issues.

"We made it more clear who is and who is not covered and really narrowed that class to the people that it really applies to. The power and control relationship that ultimately are the most dangerous, and therefore are the ones that require a specialized and different response," Vergo said.

Vergo made it clear that victims of same-sex sexual violence will be treated fairly and not re-victimized through the court system.

"People were afraid to make their sexual orientation known. I think that we have created a more welcoming and safer place for which to report."

Sexual assault in the military has been a hot button issue on Capitol Hill following a series of scandals.

According to a report released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, female service members represent 14% of the military population, but are five times more likely to be the victim of sexual assault than their male counterparts.

Trish Fordyce, South Dakota National Guard sexual assault program coordinator, said the military takes sexual assault cases very seriously.

"The Department of Defense Sexual Prevention and Response Office has really tried to create a program that speaks directly to members of the armed forces. What we're trying to do is educate and say, this is a crime and we need to start preventing this amongst ourselves," Fordyce said.

Rapid City Mayor Sam Kookier also attended the press conference. He declared April Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Sexual assault is one of the most under reported crimes in the country. WAVI says they worked with 74 victims last year.

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