Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.
That is a jarring statistic — I know. What’s even harder to fathom is that, while we are making progress, only about 25 out of every 1,000 rapists will spend time in prison.
It can be challenging to prosecute crimes of sexual violence largely because it most often occurs in private settings — not out in the public — where there are no witnesses to the crime other than the victim and the perpetrator. In my experience, crimes of sexual assault rest on the shoulders of the victim, and even though the word of one witness — the victim — if believed by the jury — is enough to convict someone, juries often wrestle with finding someone guilty based upon just the word of that one witness. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t prosecute the perpetrators. No, we fight like heck to protect the victim and any other future victim.
These crimes have a long-lasting impact for the victims, including increased rates of suicidal thoughts or attempts, drug use, and the inability to have potentially healthy relationships. The majority of victims, sadly, are in our youngest population — between the ages of 12-34 — and 80% of the time their perpetrator is someone they know, thus creating life-long trauma to be dealt with.
Living and working in an atmosphere of support for any victim is so important. That is part of our responsibility to the public at the prosecutor’s office — making people aware of the resources available and that no victim is ever alone. Believing the victims, and acknowledging that this type of crime does occur here in our community, we can become literal lifelines for all of those impacted by these horrific crimes. But it takes an entire community to bring these crimes to light and to normalize conversations about sexual assault.
Delaware is an amazing community full of support and resources, and coming up in August, we have one of those opportunities to show up for the community and take a stand against sexual violence. On Friday, Aug. 4, the Delaware County Coalition of Victim Services will host its annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®: The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault & Gender Violence. Since 2001, communities around the world have joined this award-winning event that is a theatrical occasion to raise awareness about the seriousness of men’s sexualized violence. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® is a tradition in Delaware County, one that countless victims and citizens have mentioned even to me personally and thanked our community for their support.
In years past, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® was held in May, but this year it is being moved to August as part of Main Street Delaware’s “Safety on Sandusky” First Friday. It’s completely free to take part; and men, women, and children of all ages are encouraged to participate! There will be a booth set up where you can register, borrow shoes, and get more information.
Registration will begin at 6 p.m., and the walk will start promptly at 6:30 p.m. Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® is a fun way to bring attention to an uncomfortable subject. But, it’s also a really great time! So … bring your teammates, friends and coworkers. Dress up, wear your most outrageous high-heeled shoes, and let’s all come together to bring awareness to this very serious issue!
For more information about sexual assault nationwide statistics, you can visit the RAINN website at RAINN.org. If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual violence, you can reach our Victim Services Unit at 740-833-2710, Helpline at 211, or Turning Point at 740-382-8988 for help and support. As always, if you are experiencing an emergency, please dial 911.
Melissa A. Schiffel is the Delaware County prosecutor.