April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. As we adapt to an ongoing global crisis, Empower Yolo continues to support survivors of sexual assault amidst the challenges the coronavirus pandemic has created for our community.

In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) website. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn eighteen years old, (NSVRC).

In 2019, Empower Yolo advocates served 397 sexual assault survivors 233 were adults and 164 were children. Empower Yolo’s services are considered essential and we remain open during regular office hours to provide services to survivors and families in need. We are following protocols and taking precautions to keep our clients, staff and volunteers healthy and safe.

Empower Yolo’s Concerned Advocates Responding to Emergencies (CARE) Team advocates are here to support and empower sexual assault and human trafficking survivors by providing accompaniment and advocacy during law enforcement investigations. “We are still supporting survivors in person,” says Celina Alveraz, Empower Yolo’s Associate Director. Advocates are adjusting to ensure the safety of both survivors and service providers.

Empower Yolo continues to provide survivors of sexual assault a place to turn to in their moment of crisis. The CARE Team is compromised of certified peer counselors and all communication between the survivor and advocate is privileged communication. Our advocates are already prepared to act during emergencies. They respond 24-hours a day and seven days a week to hospitals, police departments, forensic interviews and forensic medical exams; and provide crisis intervention, peer counseling, resources, referrals, and emotional support to survivors and their families.

“Advocates are able to give survivors time and space to understand the criminal justice process and their rights so they can make the best decision in how to move forward following a sexual assault. Advocates do not impose their opinions, no matter how well meaning, and cannot give advice. Instead, advocates help explore all their options and support whatever decision the survivor makes,” says Alveraz.

During this global health crisis, safety for survivors and community members is of paramount importance. In addition to the CARE Team, Empower Yolo is still providing essential services at the main office in Woodland, the West Sacramento Office, and the Resource Centers in Davis and Knights Landing. Services include: restraining order assistance, family legal clinic, food distribution, emergency clothing and hygiene products, resource and referrals. Phone and video services are also available for therapy and case management. Additionally, the 24-hour support line is available by calling (530) 662-1133 or (916) 371-1907.

How can you help survivors of abuse in our community during COVID-19?

Community members, family and friends can support survivors first and foremost by believing survivors when they come forward and disclose sexual assault. “We know that when a survivor discloses, however that person responds, will greatly impact their ability to heal. It’s important to remember the courage it takes survivors to break the silence and come forward about this violent crime. Believing, listening non-judgmentally, and connecting survivors with support, and resources are ways anyone can support a loved one. Remember that a survivor’s ability to keep themselves safe and control their own body was taken away from them, so anything we can do to give them options to take control in their lives can help to empower them again, little by little, choice by choice. It can be as simple as asking, “Have you heard of Empower Yolo, can I give you their support number,” says Alveraz.

If a child discloses abuse, follow the same guidelines and try to keep them safe. Some ways to protect the child can include: not allowing contact with the person who has caused harm; and reporting the crime and getting them connected to counseling.

“Lastly, it’s important for family, friends, and caregivers to remember to take time to care for themselves; Empower Yolo staff and volunteers are here for you too providing counseling, support line, and legal services may be able to support you during this difficult time. We encourage loved ones to practice and model self-care, not just for themselves, but also their loved one who is experiencing trauma,” says Alveraz.

Additional resources include the California Victim Compensation Board (CalVCB), which can pay for out of pocket expenses related to the crime such as counseling, medical bills, home security improvements, relocation and more. Assistance filling out these applications can be found at any of Empower Yolo’s resource centers or the Victim Services Unit at the District Attorney’s Office, (530) 666-8187. UC Davis students, staff and faculty may also utilize the Center for Advocacy Resources and Education located on both the Davis and Sacramento campuses. For information or to make an appointment, call (530) 752-3299 (Davis campus); (916) 734-3799 (UC Davis Health); or email [email protected]

In these trying times you can make a difference:

It is absolutely critical that programs for survivors continue to be financially stable even during COVID-19. In response, Empower Yolo is launching a new fundraising campaign beginning in April through the end of our fiscal year in June to support survivors and families in need.

We understand that the current pandemic has placed everyone under financial strain. If and when you can donate in the weeks and months ahead, your donation will help us support vulnerable members of our community.

We have a generous matching gift of $99,000 thanks to Dr. Stuart Starkweather and Mrs. Melissa Starkweather to help us reach our goal this year. For every dollar you donate to Empower Yolo it will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $99,000. This amazing gift will help Empower Yolo with our emergency needs, and support some of our unfunded programs and services.

Even in this trying time you have an opportunity to make a difference. Together, we can continue to provide a safety net throughout our county to support survivors and families in need, to connect them with resources to keep them safe, healthy and resilient.

For more information on services, client needs during COVID-19, and to donate any time go to: www.empoweryolo.org.

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