Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Open Arms sees increase in calls to hotline, still providing services in person and online

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“One in for women will be a victim of sexual violence in her lifetime and one in six men will be a victim of sexual violence in his lifetime so that means we all know someone in our life that is a victim, a survivor of sexual violence,” Melissa Hernandez, Victim Services Advocate for Open Arms said.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Staff at open arms says, despite what’s going on in the world, sexual violence still happens and they’re still there to help.

“We are still open to the public, our office is still staffed, we’re still answering our hotline, we’re still doing hospital accompaniment. So, if anyone needs to get a SANE exam, a forensic exam, Shannon Hospital and Community Hospital are still doing that and they’re still calling us in to provide advocacy and to provide support to those survivors,” Hernandez said.

Open Arms has increased their online presence since many of their events have been cancelled or postponed.

“We are posting helpful information on our Facebook page and Instagram,” Hernandez said.

And many have taken advantage of that information. Open Arms has received several private messages from people asking for advice. They’ve also seen some survivors share their stories publicly on those posts. This helps others in their journey to recovery.

But some are still being victimized, and they’re in the same home as the perpetrator.

“We’ve actually seen an increase in our hotline calls. So, more people have called our hotline than they have in the past two or three months, so since all of this has happened our numbers have increased,” Hernandez said.

The Open Arms advocates tell anyone asking for help about their options, like filling a police report or going to a hospital for a forensic exam, but the decision is left up to them.

“We never tell any survivor or victim what they should do because we want to give the survivor control of the situation and we want them to have the autonomy to decide what’s best for them so what may be best for me or you may not be what’s best for the victim,” Hernandez said.

When it comes to forensic exams being performed locally, the victims range in age.

“We’ve seen anywhere from children being victimized during this time all the way to college age students who are being seen for forensic exams,” Hernandez said.

For anyone who is approached by a victim or survivor wanting to share their story, Open Arms says just be supportive.

“It’s best to listen. If you don’t know what to say it’s best to just sit there in silence and let them tell you what they need to tell you and be there for support. Let them cry, let them be angry, let them show their emotions because maybe the bottled that up for so long and they haven’t been able to show those emotions. Believe them, always start by believing them. Don’t victim blame because you’re just going to push them further away and you don’t know what they will end up doing,” Hernandez said.

Another way to show support is by taking part in awareness movements. The numbers show, it does work.

“People who are doubting that this movement is making an impact, we know our statistics are showing that it is making an impact by raising awareness and educating the community. We are declining those numbers, and if they don’t see that or understand that we suggest they come in and speak to us,” Hernandez said. 

For a list of ways, you can show support, visit the Open Arms website.

Released by Senator Cornyn on March 7, 2020:

Cornyn Hosts Coronavirus Call with Texas Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Groups

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) today joined the Texas Council on Family Violence, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, and their coalition members across Texas for a video conference call to hear how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  The CARES Act, signed into law last month, included $45 million in additional funding under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and $2 million in additional funding for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, headquartered in Austin.

“With increased personal and financial pressures due to the coronavirus, these are especially difficult times for victims of domestic violence. They need and deserve our enthusiastic support,” said Sen. Cornyn.  “Today’s call gave me the opportunity to hear from sexual assault and domestic violence groups in Texas so I can understand how to best support Texans in need.”

Sen. Cornyn launched a series of statewide outreach calls with chambers of commerce, hospitals, healthcare workers, and other Texans on March 6.

Sen. Cornyn’s website has additional resources in English and Spanish for Texans during the coronavirus outbreak here.”

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