Prevalence of sexual assault prompts new programs, strategies from King Co. advocates

Oct 3, 2016, 10:22 AM | Updated: Oct 5, 2016, 5:17 am


(AP stock image)

(AP stock image)

Despite the best efforts to prevent sexual assault, it remains prevalent in our state and across the nation.

Recent studies find more than 33 percent of women in Washington have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, but only about one-third sought counseling.

Since 1976, the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center has been working to change that.

A rape or forcible sex offense happens every 3.5 hours — over 4,000 a year. And 80 percent of sexual assaults happen before the victims turn 18, according to DeAnn Yamamoto, the deputy executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center.

“Unfortunately there’s a really big need (for our services). We serve thousands of victims of sexual assault and child physical abuse every year,” Yamamoto said.

The agency says at any given time it has over 800 clients taking part in some form of their open and legal advocacy services alone, and at least 200 receiving trauma-specific therapy.

Their ultimate goal in treating the victims is helping them overcome the devastation of post-traumatic stress and learn to lead what she calls a “healthy” life.

“You know, people always strive for that normal life, but I don’t know that any of us know what normal is. But we do know what healthy is, what happy feels like. We know what joy feels like. And victim’s can feel that again, too,” Yamamoto said.

That can be particularly difficult for younger victims — nearly 26 percent suffer abuse before they are 10 years old.

The organization has developed therapies for young victims, so they can grow up and experience healthy relationships and overcome the trauma of abuse.

The focus isn’t exclusively on victims — it’s about prevention as well.

“Think about this: sexual assault is 100 percent preventable and it can end tomorrow if we end perpetration,” she said.

So how do you do that? It starts young. Yamamoto says the message has to be hammered home from an early age that victimization of any kind, including bullying, is unacceptable.

And she says there’s nothing more infuriating than hearing victim blaming or shaming – such as “he or she was drunk or wearing suggestive clothing, so they somehow brought it on themselves.”

“Part of me thinks that we do that because we’re trying to protect our own vulnerabilities,” she said. “Because as long as that exists we do allow that climate of sexual perpetration to be permissible in this society.”

But a big impediment is getting people to talk about it in general. Sexual assault is often a taboo subject. And Yamamoto says just like any other public health crisis, we have to be willing to tackle it head on.

“We have a lot of shame in talking about it, either our own victimization or just being afraid to raise it up as conversation,” Yamamoto said.

That’s why the stations of Bonneville Seattle, the Seattle Seahawks, and Carter Subaru have chosen the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center as our charity of the month.

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Prevalence of sexual assault prompts new programs, strategies from King Co. advocates