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Pensacola Leaders Observe Sexual Assault Prevention Month

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Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
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April is "SAAM" -- Sexual Assault Awareness Month,  and a host of Pensacola-area officials drove that home on Thursday in downtown Pensacola.

They gathered in front of the fountain at the marina near Plaza de Luna. The water dyed teal green – the color of sexual assault awareness. Patrick Nichols from NAS Pensacola read the proclamation, prior to signing.

“Every year, too many women and too many men are sexually assaulted and abused,” read Nichols. “This is an affront to our basic decency and humanity, and it must end.”

Organizers say the participation by the various leaders emphasizes the community involvement and support of the nationwide recognition of the month. Capt. Keith Hoskins, the Commanding Officer of NAS Pensacola, says the decree is similar to one that was passed aboard base, and that the military has made great strides in addressing the issue.

“We now teach bystander intervention, to engage the strength of our numbers by preventing sexual assaults from actually occurring,” Hoskins said. “We take care of our victims with a very robust system, and dedicated personnel within each and every command onboard NAS Pensacola.”

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Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
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Teal is the color of sexual assault prevention awareness.

  Local law enforcement reports that in 2013 – the latest figures available – there were more than 3,000 domestic violence offenses, including two murders and 32 forcible rapes. Mayor Ashton Hayward pointed to figures that show every two minutes in the U-S, a sexual assault is committed – but only about 30% are reported.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Escambia County has a higher rate of domestic violence – ten and a third cases per 1,000 population – than Miami-Dade and some of the other more populous counties downstate.

“In law enforcement, we tend to react to things, and we try to practice crime prevention. But there are a host of reasons for that; a lot of it has to do with the poverty level,” said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, who adds the higher numbers can also have an upside – that more such cases are being reported.

“We get out and beat the drum and tell our citizens to join with us and bond with us in fighting crime, et cetera,” said Morgan. “And when they do, what happens to your stats? The more crimes your report the higher your statistics become. So this is one of those things that’s a little bit of a double-edged sword.”

Morgan says another reason for the increased cases is that an environment’s been created in that residents are comfortable enough to come forward and report a crime – which heretofore he says, has itself been the crime of secrecy.

Another emerging weapon against sexual assault – and other crimes as well – is social media, says Mayor Ashton Hayward.

“It’s powerful,” said Hayward. “With social media today, it allows people to be a little more comfortable about getting their story out there.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers sexual violence a public health problem, using the same four-step approach as with diseases: define the problem, identify risk and protective factors, develop and test prevention strategies, and assure widespread adoption. In this case, the ultimate goal is to stop sexual violence before it begins.