Darien ceremony marks April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month

DARIEN — State and local leaders recently gathered at Darien Town Hall to declare April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson offered a proclamation to start the event officially recognizing the month’s cause in Darien.

Mary Forman Flynn, a Darien resident and executive director of The Rowan Center, and Jamie Manirakiza, executive director of Partnership to End Human Trafficking, also addressed the prevalence of online sexual abuse and how it is often used to initiate in-person abuse, assault, and trafficking.

Stevenson, Flynn and Manirakiza called for prioritizing education and awareness to make online spaces safer for everyone, including children and young people.

The national theme for SAAM this year is “We Can Build Safe Online Spaces,” driven by the increase in digital communication made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Reps. Stephanie Thomas, D-Norwalk, and Terrie Wood, R-Darien, spoke about legislation to mandate online safety education for Connecticut schoolchildren, and speakers shared thoughts and perspectives on the issue of sexual violence, the importance of prevention efforts and, in particular, how damaging sexual violence can be for individuals and communities.

“Even when abuse occurs behind a screen, the impact on the victim, their loved ones, and the community can be just as harmful as sexual violence committed in person,” Flynn said

This April marks the 20th anniversary of a nationally celebrated Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual violence, a public health crisis affecting nearly 600,000 Americans each year, is any sexual activity, verbal or physical, where consent is not freely given, the Rowan Center reports.

According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in three women and nearly one in four men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact at some point in their lives.

In Connecticut, as of 2018, one in two women and one in five men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the state’s sexual violence prevention program. The program reports a 77 percent of victims knew the perpetrators.

The state has also launched a campaign during the month of April, #itsnotokCT, to spread the word about sexual abuse prevention and awareness.

The Rowan Center provides counseling and support services to victims of sexual assault in towns throughout Fairfield County and beyond. Those in need of help can call the Rowan Center’s 24-hour crisis hotlines: English: 203-329-2929; Toll Free: 888-999-5545; Espanol: 888-568-8332