VCU hosts ‘Start by Believing’ event aimed at helping victims of sexual assault

Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 6:45 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 20, 2022 at 7:08 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and VCU Police hosted a program Wednesday aimed at helping survivors of those assaults.

The “Start By Believing” Campaign offers victims a safe space to get resources and spread the word on this ongoing issue.

Several organizations and Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin are working together to reverse the stigma.

“What we do from the beginning is follow what is comfortable for them. They’ve already been traumatized by a violent act, and so we’re not going to drag them into a prosecution if that’s not what they want,” McEachin said.

The Virginia Victim Assistance Network helps student survivors at VCU and across the state. Kate Hanger, the executive director of the network, said many survivors, who are women, are afraid others won’t believe them if they speak out.

“One of the things we try to do when working with victims of sexual violence is when we’re referring them to other resources, we make sure that that resource is going to start by believing,” she said.

Almost one in four undergraduate women will experience sexual assault during their time at school.

VCU police joined the national “Start by Believing” campaign in 2014 to address sexual assault cases better.

“The approach to sexual assault is a very, very different approach that’s trauma-informed,” VCU Police Chief John said. “And it’s more about meeting a survivor where they are and assisting them to where they would like to be.”

According to VCU police, there has been a decline in reported sexual assault cases from the 2019-2020 academic school year.

Academic School YearReported Sexual Assault Cases
2021-2022 (year-to-date)20

The groups working with VCUPD also offer medical, mental, and academic support to student survivors.

VCU Police are encouraging students to speak up even if they are not a victim.

“Bystander intervention - to train our students how to intervene, how to look out for their friends and other students, so that they won’t become victims of sexual assault,” Venuti said.

Project Empower, YWCA, Latinos in Virginia, and Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance were just some of the other organizations at Wednesday’s event.

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