“Denim Day” is about having people believe and support victims of sexual assault so the survivors can heal and it can be prevented from happening again.
Sexual assault can be a difficult topic to address because of its personal nature, and many people avoid the subject with the excuse that while sexual assault is a real issue, it is something that occurs far away in other places and would never happen here, to or by, people they know and work with. The reality of the situation is anything but that and, unfortunately, this common belief makes sexual assault more likely to occur, according to specialists in this field.
Recently, FRC students wore their jeans and gathered for a Denim Day presentation on campus to learn about the seriousness of sexual assault, how common it is, and what they and the people of Plumas County can do to help survivors and prevent such attacks from occurring in the future.
“No matter what people go through they should be supported,” said FRC senior Makaela Cooper, suggesting that we shouldn’t be selective about which experiences we support and which are too difficult to address.
Michelle Ridley, a crisis counselor, Plumas County District Attorney David Hollister and members of the FRC staff spoke on Denim Day, April 24, to raise awareness about sexual assault and educate students about the resources available to them both on campus and in the Plumas County area. The event was organized and made possible by the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society with PTK advisor Anna Thompson hosting the event.
As a counselor with the Plumas Crisis Intervention and Resource Center, Ridley addresses ways for victims to reach out for help as well as take precautionary steps to prevent sexual assault and gather evidence to build a case if an attack occurs. She also aids in the recovery from trauma. Ridley would be the person in Plumas County to provide support for victims if a case progressed in court.
Ridley told the students there is a time directly after a traumatic event when the victim can help ward off experiencing the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by receiving specialized counseling.
However, an important part of support for victims of sexual assault is feeling believed.
An environment that supports victims in this way will help them come forward and receive the aid they need to recover. This may also reduce incidents of sexual assault, increase feelings of safety for victims and shed light on this traumatic experience as more people become aware of the issue and address it.
D.A. Hollister spoke about the significance of sexual assault, what an investigation looks like and the crime-charging process. He explained that the reason sexual assault is such a terrible crime, and is penalized as such, is because of the lasting repercussions to the victims.
Survivors of sexual assault and rape suffer terribly and it is difficult to recover, Hollister said, adding, “The emotional impact on young girls cannot be overstated.” Victims suffer in visible and not visible ways.
The district attorney explained that investigators try to confirm or dispel an allegation, which is necessary for a case to move forward ethically. However, this can be difficult due to the lack of physical evidence in sexual assault crimes and may make it difficult to find evidence that proves the perpetrator guilty. It is this that makes Ridley’s work teaching people how to gather evidence so invaluable, she noted.
A key element in charging someone with a crime is that only the county’s district attorney and the attorney general of the state can make the charge. This is to make sure the accusation is valid. It also takes the burden off the victim.
In preparation for Denim Day at FRC, employee and activist Monica Potter and student ambassadors and club volunteers from the honor society, student government and Eagle Pride, set up a canvas banner on which students could make handprints and sign their names. They could also take a pledge provided by It’s On Us to support victims of sexual assault and break the stigma surrounding it so victims can receive healing. The completed canvas sheet was hung in the FRC Wellness Center for all to see.
The FRC awareness event can serve as a call, in Plumas County and beyond, to step up and think about how those who report sexual assault are treated. We can make a lasting change in society and prevent many people from being hurt if we become aware that the issue is present everywhere and to support and believe victims so they can share their story. When we address actual cases, we can make lasting change.