By Jerald Monahan, Chief of Police, Prescott Arizona, President of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police
Survivors of sexual assault face many challenges when deciding whether or not to report the crime. Choosing not to report allows an offender to commit multiple sex crimes on other victims. If a survivor does report, they find themselves submitting to embarrassing interviews, medical examinations, and scrutiny from family, friends and even the community at large. One negative reaction toward a survivor from any part of the system can change the decision to assist in the investigation and prosecution of a rapist. This is a victory for the serial offender and according to End Violence Against Women International, www.evawintl.org, statistics show that offenders will not just attack once, they will attack an average of six times. One failed response equals five more assaults.
The impact of sexual assaults on individuals, families and the community is significant. The community has a stake in holding these offenders accountable for their acts. One way a community can help is by adopting a simple message called, "Start by Believing." Why is adopting this message so publicly important? Former Office on Violence Against Women Director and Judge Susan Carbon made a presentation to the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, Committee of the Judiciary United States Senate, dated September 14, 2010, entitled: "Rape in the United States: The Chronic Failure to Report and Investigate Rape Cases." In this statement she mentioned that according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, from 1992 to 2000, only 36% of rapes and 34% of attempted rapes were reported. The first reason Director Carbon gave for victims not reporting was the fear of not being believed. Those numbers have not improved. According to the 2008-2012 Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey, now only 40% of victims report if they are sexually assaulted.
Start by Believing sends a simple message to sexual assault survivors that we as a community will support and believe them when they report the crime. In Arizona, the Governor's Commission to Prevent Violence Against Women adopted the campaign by formal resolution in 2012. The Maricopa Association of Government's (MAG) Domestic Violence Council adopted it in early 2013, with the full MAG advisory council adopting soon after.
City of Apache Junction Vice Mayor Robin Barker took the campaign back to Apache Junction, and Apache Junction became the first Arizona city to adopt by council proclamation this year. Since then Prescott, Prescott Valley, Kingman, Marana, and Camp Verde Councils have all adopted the Start By Believing Campaign. This simple message, declared by our local elected representatives, has the potential to send a strong message to both the victim and the offender. To the victim, one of support. To the offender, we will work to hold you accountable.
Let us make every city and town in Arizona a Start by Believing City and Town. For more information, please go to: www.startbybelieving.org.
Information contributed by: Chief Jerald Monahan, Prescott AZ