Women's Freedom Center: Vigil for survivors on April 20

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There's a poignant shift each year from celebrating March — Women's History Month — to marking April, Sexual Violence Awareness Month, because the second theme casts such a long shadow over women's history. Today, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. That means many of us have experienced this kind of violence ourselves, and most of us know other survivors.

But just who are the rapists? 98 percent are male, and in four out of five cases, the victim actually knew the person who sexually assaulted them. In the military for instance, 28 percent of women experience rape during their time of service, and 96 percent of their perpetrators were U.S. military men, i.e. "comrades." There's simply no war memorial big enough to list the casualties in this regard. In our broader culture, the Centers for Disease Control estimates about 1.3 million women per year are sexually assaulted in the United States.

Epidemic that it is, rape is nonetheless still our most under-reported crime. According to the Department of Justice, about 65 percent of rapes are not reported to police. On college campuses, the numbers are even more extreme: while 5 percent of college females are victimized every year, 90 percent don't report the assault to police. Clearly we still have enormous work to do as a culture to shift the toxic norms behind all these crimes, which enforce the silence as well.

First, it's vital to keep each month an awareness month, and ensure that survivors know where they can turn: the Women's Freedom Center supports all survivors of sexual assault, and we welcome chances to speak with our broader community about dismantling rape culture, and creating positive social change.

We want to mark April in particular and honor survivors, give them a chance to speak if they wish, and we invite all allies to come join us: we're holding a Candlelight Vigil on Wednesday, April 20, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at The Root Social Justice Center in Brattleboro. Whether you come to share an experience, speak out, read a poem, sing a song, or just stand in silent solidarity, you're welcome to join in this supportive evening. For more information, please call 802-257-7364. We're also beginning a new evening Support Group for Sexual Assault Survivors, the second Tuesday of each month starting May 10 at 5:30 p.m. Please call our office for more details.

And beginning Thursday, May 5, we will offer an additional new support group, Women for Sobriety (WFS), which will meet weekly from 5:30 to 7 p.m. WFS is a unique and successful empowerment program begun in 1975, which addresses the specific needs of women working to overcome alcohol and/or drug addiction. All self-identified women interested in joining this group do not need to have experienced violence in order to join, and we encourage you to check out the organization's website for more information before calling us to sign up: womenforsobriety.org. WFS has self-help groups throughout the world, and also a 24/7 connection with chat meetings and message boards for support. Their positive and women-centered approach to sobriety can be used as additional, or alternative support to other programs. Please help us spread the word about all of these resources, and we hope to see you at the Sexual Assault Survivors Vigil on April 20.

The Women's Freedom Center is the local organization in Windham and Southern Windsor County working to end domestic and sexual violence. Follow us on Facebook at Women's Freedom Center and at www.womensfreedomcenter.net. You can reach an advocate on our 24-hour crisis line at 802-254-6954.


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