April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month as well as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. The Barton County Commission Monday morning approved proclamations marking both and noted the horrific toll this violence takes on society, especially during a year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month raises public awareness about sexual violence and educates communities and individuals on how to prevent it, said Family Crisis Center Executive Director Joanne Wondra. The Family Crisis Center provides services for sexual assault survivors at no charge and offers training for community members and professionals.
“We believe everyone deserves to live a life free from violence,” Wondra said.
“Sexual violence is a widespread, preventable, public health problem in Kansas,” Wondra said. This is defined as any sexual act against a person’s will or when that person is not able to consent or refuse. It includes sexual assault, rape, unwanted touching, threatened sexual violence, exhibitionism, and verbal sexual harassment.
In this last year: They housed 33 women in their shelter, as well as one man and 20 children, which amounted to 1,046 bed nights; answered 1,678 crisis calls; helped 265 domestic violence victims, 208 women, 10 men and 47 children; helped 54 sexual assault victims, 38 women, four men and 12 children; two human trafficking victims; and 27 stalking victims. The center, based in Great Bend, serves six counties, Barton, Rice, Stafford, Pawnee, Ellsworth and Pratt.
In Barton County, the center served 348 victims in 2020, and 54 victims in 2020 who identified sexual assault as their primary victimization, she said.
Wondra said the pandemic actually lowered the numbers for the sexual assault division. But that ended as people started going back to work.
“We had this feeling of dread in all of our programs,” she said, noting an uptick started in the last quarter of 2020. “Our numbers are huge right now.”
“But, the statistics do not represent the true incidence and prevalence of sexual violence,” Wondra said. “Not all victims report the crime to law enforcement.”
And, she said, sexual violence is often a tactic of domestic violence. So it may not be reported by law enforcement as the primary form of abuse, even though the victim has experienced it along with another kind of primary abuse.
Next Tuesday is Sexual Assault Awareness Day, Wondra said. People are encouraged to wear teal-colored shirts in commemoration.
The center also requested that a proclamation be adopted declaring April as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.
“Child abuse and neglect can be reduced by making sure families have the support needed to raise children in a healthy environment,” said Kasey Dalke, program director for the center’s Child Advocacy Center. It also requires dedicated individuals and organizations in Barton County working to counter these problems, she said.
“Yes, COVID made for a trying year for the child advocacy program,” she said. “We noticed that our numbers did increase.”
They served 197 children who had been abused, she said. This encompasses sexual, physical, emotional and mental abuse, as well as children who witnessed violence, were drug-endangered or in human or sex trafficking.
They also served 100 non-offending caregivers, conducted 195 forensic interviews, and provided advocacy for six child sexual assault exams.
“Preventing child abuse and neglect is a community problem that requires all citizens to be involved,” Dalke said. “Child maltreatment occurs when people find themselves in stressful situations without community resources and don’t know how to cope.”
This can be reduced by making sure families have the support needed to raise children in a healthy environment, she said. In Barton County, there are dedicated individuals and organizations that work daily to counter the problem of child abuse and neglect and help parents obtain assistance.
“All children deserve freedom from verbal abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and physical abuse and neglect,” she said. “All children deserve to have warm homes, loving hugs, tender care, parents and adults who listen and promote self-esteem, give quality time and provide necessary food shelter, clothing and attention.”
Effective prevention programs succeed because of partnerships created among social service agencies, schools, faith communities, civic organizations, law enforcement agencies and the business community, she said.
Locally, the center, Kansas Children Service League, Central Kansas Court Appointed Special Advocates, Department for Children and Families, St. Francis Ministries, Child Abuse Prevention and Education, University of Kansas Health Systems – Great Bend Campus SANE program, 20th Judicial District Juvenile Services and law enforcement officers work daily to address child abuse and neglect.
“All citizens, community agencies, faith groups, medical facilities and businesses are called upon to increase participation in efforts to support families, thereby preventing child abuse and strengthening the community,” Dalke said.
They are placing blue pinwheels around town and surrounding communities to raise awareness, and there will be windows painted with stencils around town by the Kansas Children’s Service League and the Oxford houses. In addition, Thursday is wear blue day.
Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Here’s a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:
• Met as the Board of Health and rescinded the county-wide mask mandate (see related story).
• Approved an extension of the declaration of a state of local public health emergency as a result of COVID-19.
• Approved a Sexual Assault Awareness Month proclamation.
• Approved a Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month proclamation.
• Approved tapping the capital improvement fund to pay the high utility billing from the cold snap.
Barton County received a WoodRiver Energy bill for February. Following that month’s arctic blast, the county’s bill was $21,267.10, which is significantly higher than last month, said County Administrator Phil Hathcock. This bill covers the courthouse, Sheriff’s Office, Detention Facility and the Health Department.
Based in Denver, Colo., WoodRiver Energy is a third-party natural gas supplier that works with the local utility to help residential and commercial customers save on natural gas. It operates in seven states and Canada.
• Approved allocating $5,000 to the Fair Board for use of Expo III as a COVID vaccination site.