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SPOTLIGHT
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Start by believing

Published on -4/22/2014, 10:09 AM

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If you notice a sudden uptick in people wearing the color teal this week, there is a logical explanation. Options: Domestic and Sexual Violence Services in Hays is using the eye-grabbing hue in its newest campaign.

"Teal Up" was conceived to draw attention to the Start by Believing public awareness campaign, which launched during the Sexual Assault Awareness month of April.

"Start by believing refers to start by believing the victim," said Charlotte Linsner, Options executive director. "We decided to take that campaign and do something with it."

Linsner and the incoming executive director, Sharon Leuenberger, went with the week of April 20 to have businesses and organizations in the community make their colorful statements of support.

"The purpose is to show survivors of sexual assault in the community that we don't accept (sexual assault)," Linsner said in an interview with The Hays Daily News earlier this month.

This is the third year of Start by Believing, which was launched at the International Conference on Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Stalking. The concept compares the support individuals receive when loved ones die, when they're diagnosed with cancer, even when a car is stolen. There is no blame for "bringing it on yourself." Campaign organizers believe survivors of sexual violence should receive the same level of compassion instead of blame or shame.

Domestic and sexual violence is a serious issue in the state of Kansas. In 2012, the most recent year statistics were compiled by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, there were 24,373 domestic violence incidents. That is one incident every 21 minutes, 36 seconds, with one rape occurring every eight hours, 12 minutes and 36 seconds.

The annual report, Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Rape in Kansas, reveals 24 of those incidents were homicides (representing 26.4 percent of the total 91 homicides statewide that year). The KBI points out that 13,193 arrests were made. That 54-percent arrest rate means there is room for improvement.

There is progress to be made in Ellis County as well, although law enforcement has a pretty good track record here. In 2012, there were 201 domestic violence incidents and 189 arrests made. That 88.1 percent arrest rate is one of the best in the state.

Ellis County also benefits from strong community engagement. Hays Medical Center started a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program in 2010 so victims didn't have to go to Salina or farther for examinations. HaysMed provides invaluable services to victims from throughout northwest Kansas.

There also exists the Ellis County Sexual Assault Response Team that coordinates the community response to victims young and old, holds offenders accountable, and promotes public safety. The SART group includes Options, HaysMed, the Ellis County Attorney's Office, Hays Police Department, Ellis County Sheriff's Office, FHSU Police Department, Ellis Police Department and the Hays Department for Children and Families.

Still, there were 201 reported incidents. And that likely is a fraction of the number of actual incidents in which the dominant partner acted in such a manner as to undermine the victim's sense of self, free will and safety. Anything that can be done to help reduce the number is a step in the right direction.

Teal Up is one of those steps. Not only does it raise awareness, the Start by Believing helps develop compassion for the victim. Options, which has offices in Hays and Colby, is to be commended for the innovative approach.

If you enter a place of business this week and see teal everywhere, you'll know what it is for. That roomful of people is concerned about sexual assault and domestic violence. You should be, too.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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