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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April 3, 2011

Diane Kuntz (far left) is working with local officials, such as the Jefferson County Commissioners (from left) Jeffrey Pisarcik, Paul Corbin and James McIntyre, to urge community members to get involved in preventing sexual assault crimes. (Photo by Matthew Steffy/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

BROOKVILLE — The Jefferson County Commissioners recently proclaimed April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

PASSAGES, an organization supporting sexual assault victims in Jefferson, Clarion and Clearfield counties, placed the theme, “It’s Time To Get Involved.”

Diane Kuntz, executive director of PASSAGES, said the month’s theme is designed to educate the public about sexual assault prevention.
“We’re going to try to inundate the community during the month to heighten awareness regarding the issues with sexual violence and sexual assault. It’s all about primary prevention.”

In other words, the awareness month encourages people to take action before problems arise, rather than treating the result, Kuntz said.
“Historically, we educate children and teach them to tell adults when something has happened,” she said. “Primary prevention takes a different angle.”

That angle involves parents and adults identifying the dangers facing a child, and also recognizing their role in abuse if a child is assaulted.
“Sexual assault is not something that a lot of people want to talk about or realize how prevalent it is in the community,” Kuntz said. “But it is not going away. There is a lot of victim-blaming. We need to be breaking the silence. By recognizing the bystander as an active participant, the sense of responsibility shifts away from the victim.”

An estimated one in three women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Many times, the assault stays private, Kuntz said. In order for progress to be made, all community members must have an active role.

“Our mission is to work to eliminate all forms of sexual violence through education, prevention and advocacy,” Kuntz said. “Primary prevention goes right along with that mission.

“We’re an agency that helps survivors of sexual violence. We realize that we cannot do this alone. We need our community to do more. We need our community to help in the mission.

“Everybody needs to speak up about sexual abuse, and be responsible to intervene,” she said.

PASSAGES is hosting an Awareness Month kickoff Friday at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Other speaking events are scheduled to spread the word that all residents have to be involved in preventing sexual assault and violence.

“How great would it be if we no longer had to deal with this issue?” Kuntz said. “Imagine if we no longer had to deal with the pain and the hurt that this causes in both adults and children. There are a lot of long-term effects that come with it, and we can prevent those.”
PASSAGES is currently seeking volunteers.

Residents interested in volunteering, or in search of more information regarding PASSAGES or Sexual Assault Awareness Month can call 849-5303 or e-mail exdir@csonline.net.

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