The month of April is both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. This year marks Empower Yolo’s 45th anniversary of providing services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Over the years Empower Yolo’s services and resources have grown and expanded to meet the rising need for support of survivors and families in need in our community. Yolo County’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Task Force is a local effort to support sexual assault and human trafficking survivors.
SART is a coordinated, multidisciplinary, and victim-centered first response to survivors of sexual assault and human trafficking. SART members include victim advocates both Empower Yolo’s CARE advocates (SART advocate and CARE advocate can be used interchangeably) and UC Davis CARE advocates, law enforcement detectives, District Attorney’s Office sex crimes team, forensic medical examiners, Department of Justice crime lab, and the Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center.
According to CapRadio’s “After the Assault” podcast (June 2021) citing the Department of Justice, 75% of rapes in the U.S. go unreported. The mission of SART is to counter the experience of sexual assault and human trafficking with a sensitive and competent multi-disciplinary response, to support efforts to restore the well-being to the victim, and to bring the responsible person(s) to justice. Teamwork, cooperation, communication and flexibility are essential for the success of the SART program. “I’m extremely proud of the SART Task Force for recommitting to following these principles and supporting survivors by reauthorizing the Yolo County SART Protocol in September 2021,” says Associate Director, Celina Alveraz.
SART advocates help empower survivors and inform them of their rights. “There are many rights survivors have, but the one I like to highlight is that each survivor has the right to ask questions,” says Jess Lucia, Empower Yolo SART Advocate. “Whether that is asking questions to an advocate or law enforcement for clarification or if guidance is needed, it’s ok to ask. In my experience, many survivors think there is only one reporting option and that involves taking a stand at trial. Reporting options can vary based on what each survivor wants, anything from reporting anonymously to a full investigation, it is solely up to each survivor,” says Lucia.
In 2021, 390 survivors of sexual assault and human trafficking (of which 146 were children) received advocacy, accompaniment, and/or support services from Empower Yolo.
Through the lingering pandemic, Empower Yolo continues to provide essential services to survivors of sexual assault. The CARE team is composed of certified sexual assault peer counselors and all communication between the survivor and advocate is privileged communication. Empower Yolo advocates are prepared to act during emergencies. They respond 24-hours a day/seven days a week to hospitals, police departments, forensic interviews, and the BEAR Clinic for forensic medical exams; they provide crisis intervention, peer counseling, accompaniment, resources, referrals, and emotional support to survivors and their families. All services are free, safe, and confidential.
Empower Yolo also has counseling services (for adults and children), restraining order clinics, and support groups (for adults and teens) for survivors of sexual assault. A new support group called Foundations, which focuses on rebuilding your life after sexual assault, will be starting in the month of April. For more information and to sign up visit: empoweryolo.org/counseling-services/.
“Being a SART Advocate with Empower Yolo is extremely rewarding. It allows me and the Empower Yolo team to support survivors where they are and to give encouragement even if survivors are not wanting to report,” says Lucia. “Our work is important in this community because it allows survivors to have a safe, non-judgmental, confidential space to be able to talk about difficult situations. Our SART services provide a path to healing and feeling supported,” says Lucia.
The community can help by simply believing. “Believing a survivor is one of the most powerful things we can do as a community,” says Lucia. “Some other ways the community can support survivors is by spreading the word about the SART team, placing Empower Yolo fliers in their businesses, letting friends and family know about SART services, and making financial donations. We appreciate everyone in the community who has helped Empower Yolo provide services to survivors,” says Lucia.
To all survivors out there “We believe you. You are supported. You are not alone,” says Lucia.
If you would like to support survivors and make a difference in our community join Empower Yolo’s upcoming spring peer counselor training which will be starting Tuesday, April 26. For more information or to download an application visit: empoweryolo.org/volunteer/.
April is also Child Abuse Prevention Month. Throughout the month, the Child Abuse Prevention Council (CAPC), Yolo County Children’s Alliance (YCCA), Empower Yolo, and partners are raising awareness about nurturing resilience in youth and their families in the region. This year, the Yolo County CAPC is highlighting the Strong Families Yolo website to provide new interactive resources and educational materials focused on the needs of youth and their parents/caregivers; See https://www.strongfamiliesyolo.org/youth-teens.
This month Empower Yolo has several new, exciting activities planned and opportunities for the community to get involved and make an impact. In honor of Empower Yolo’s 45th anniversary and in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month the annual “Shower for the Shelter” will be a “Rooms-to-Go” drive to help support the 45 victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking our housing department will be moving into permanent housing during our 45th year so that every one of those 45 households receives the necessary items to complete a bedroom, bathroom, or kitchen. Donate any new needed items during our in-person event on Saturday, April 9, or any time during the month of April in Davis or Woodland during office hours. For more information, locations, and hours visit: empoweryolo.org.
For its spring community service project the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis built a tactile play table for the children at the shelter and held its own “Rooms to Go” drive to help support Empower Yolo clients.
“After visiting the shelter, our committee was moved by the commitment of the staff and the breadth of services Empower Yolo provides to families. We would encourage other organizations to offer items for the “Rooms to Go” campaign and help families who are beginning anew,” says Karen Friis, member of the stewardship committee, along with Sarah Larkin and chaired by Sharon Hale.
Throughout the month of April, Empower Yolo will also be hosting a weekly, lunchtime podcast club series based on CapRadio’s, “After the Assault” podcast (June 2021); episodes can be found at: capradio.org/aftertheassault. Listen to two episodes each week and connect with Empower Yolo advocates via Zoom on Wednesdays at 12 noon to discuss the podcast. Start by listening to episode 1 “Start by Believing” and episode 2 “Your Brain on Rape,” and join us for the first meeting on Wednesday, April 6 at 12 p.m. For the full schedule and to register visit: https://tinyurl.com/2dz4p545.
Other ways to support Empower Yolo and survivors: 1) Denim Day 2022 is Wednesday, April 27th. Wear denim and join us in supporting survivors, spreading awareness and education around sexual violence, and challenging rape culture; post a selfie in denim and tag @empower_yolo #DenimDay2022. For more information visit: denimdayinfo.org. 2) Give to support sexual assault survivors and many other clients in need on Big Day of Giving, Thursday, May 5; make an impact and become a matching donor for Empower Yolo. Donate $45 or more in honor of Empower Yolo’s 45th anniversary; early giving begins Thursday, April 21 at: www.bigdayofgiving.org/empoweryolo.
For more information on services, supporting survivors of sexual assault, and to donate any time visit: empoweryolo.org.