SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Start by Believing Day is a public awareness and action campaign launched by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) in April 2011. It was created to end the cycle of silence and change the response to survivors of sexual assault by expressing belief and support. In parts of the country, as few as 1 in 5 survivors will actually file a report about their sexual assault case.
According to EVAWI, survivors often face reactions of doubt, shame, or blame when they report the crime or reach out to help. These reactions can increase the trauma survivors experience and decrease the likelihood they will pursue justice and healing. This also means that perpetrators are not held accountable for their crimes, and they remain free to hurt more people.
When someone has been sexually assaulted, they often turn first to family members or friends. But if the response they’re met with to their disclosure is disbelief or blame, this can increase the trauma of the assault and reduce the chances that the victim will report to law enforcement or seek other services. On the other hand, when victims are treated with respect and their accounts are taken seriously, they will more likely feel comfortable to report or seek help. These positive interactions can decrease the long-term effects of trauma.
So why is Start by Believing Day recognized on the first Wednesday of every April? The day was chosen to build on the momentum that began in April 2015, when Utah’s very own State Representative Angela Romero sponsored a resolution to declare the first annual Start by Believing Day in our state. April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Advocates say the concept of the campaign is not just geared towards the family and friends of survivors, but also criminal justice professionals. When police and prosecutors start from the presumption that a sexual assault report has merit and follow the evidence through the course of a fair, impartial, and thorough investigation, it can have a significant impact on case outcomes.
Alison Jones-Lockwood, who is the Start by Believing Community Liaison for EVAWI joined ABC4’s Nick McGurk for an IN FOCUS discussion about the campaign, how community members can contribute and participate, what statements are appropriate and inappropriate to say to a survivor when they disclose their traumatic incident, and the options that victims have once they’re ready to seek additional help.
Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) shared what the data shows about the issue of sexual assault in the State of Utah, the legislation she’s sponsored through the last several years to protect survivors and help them heal, and the work that still needs to be done in Utah to combat the epidemic.
Jennifer Pagnanelli, a sexual assault survivor talked about how her healing process led her to creating Project Comfort, a fundraiser that provides small care packages to survivors in the ER when they report their case. She said that in 2008, she was raped while receiving a massage at a professional spa from a therapist that was not licensed. In the healing process, she said she experienced victim-shaming while coming forward with her traumatic incident.
If you would like to donate to Project Comfort, you can visit Pagnanelli’s GoFundMe page or send money to her Venmo @Jennifer-Pag-1.
To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Jones-Lockwood, Rep. Romero, and Pagnanelli, click on the video at the top of the article.
Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.