Getting conversations started about sexual assault

Wednesday, April 16, 2008 | 8:57 p.m. CDT; updated 8:04 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — In talking about sexual assault, sometimes getting the conversation started can be the hardest part.

Danica Pape understands this.

Pape, an MU student, volunteers at The Shelter as a hospital advocate and talks to women who have been raped or sexually assaulted. She recently helped organize an event to raise awareness about rape and raise funds for The Shelter, which temporarily houses women who are survivors of domestic violence. One of her basic conversation starters among her peers was simply wearing a T-shirt that featured the name of the event she organized: “Rock Against Rape.”

“Some people are afraid to ask about these things that happen,” she said. “If I can get the conversation going, then that’s the most important thing.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. A number of events have already marked the month, and more are planned in the coming weeks.

On Thursday, members of The Shelter plan to go to Jefferson City to attend a ceremony held by the Missouri Department of Corrections in recognition of Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

On Saturday, MU athletes will hand out ribbons and bookmarks at the 1 p.m. Black and Gold spring football game at Faurot Field.

Also Saturday, Urban Empowerment at 2409 N. Stadium Blvd. will host a conference on domestic violence titled “Love Without Limits” from 1 to 3 p.m. Leigh Voltmer, The Shelter’s executive director, will speak at the event along with Larissa Camp, whose hand was shot off in an abusive relationship. The conference is free and open to the public.

Passing out information on sexual assaults in the form of ribbons, bookmarks, fliers or anything else is what The Shelter’s 2008 sexual assault awareness campaign is all about. The Can We Talk campaign was created by The Shelter for this year’s month of events.

Brenda Baker, The Shelter’s director of development, said the national campaign for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “Preventing Sexual Violence in our Workplaces.” But The Shelter decided to create its own campaign locally..

“The numbers show that there is so much more sexual assault generally,” Baker said. “One woman in four women will report being sexually assaulted in their lifetime. We’re seeing an increase in the age group of 14 and 22. That’s why we made up our own campaign locally.”

Earlier this month, the “Rhythm and Soul Revue” brought together community members seeking to celebrate The Shelter’s achievements.

Jennifer Perlow of Perlow-Stevens Gallery held a reception for the event in her gallery.

“In general I think everyone is affected by sexual assault,” she said. “There’s no one whose lives have not been touched in any capacity.”

Those who want to show their concern about sexual violence can do so next Thursday by throwing on a pair of jeans or a denim jacket. April 27 is Denim Day, a day marked internationally for protest against sexual violence toward women. According to the Missouri Coalition Against Sexual Violence, the day originates from a ruling in 1999 in which an Italian supreme court overturned a rape conviction because the survivor was wearing jeans.

The month’s events will wrap up April 27 with a 5K walk on MU’s campus. The run is being held by Alpha Phi Omega and the Panhellenic Association in conjunction with The Shelter. For information, call Leigh Voltmer at 875-0503.

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