Anyone who follows the headlines knows that sexual trauma happens often and close to home. Given the intense media focus on the case in Steubenville, Ohio, where two teenage boys were recently found delinquent (guilty) of raping a teenage girl, it is imperative that we use this horrific incident as an opportunity to educate our community about sexual trauma, and collectively work to prevent it in our community.

As the executive director of STAR (Baton Rouge’s Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response Center), I know that what happened in Steubenville happens in every community, including ours. We just don’t hear about it because victims are often too ashamed and intimidated to speak out. I know that most victims of rape and other forms of sexual trauma never talk about it or report it to police. I know that about one in five Louisiana women and one in 71 men are rape survivors. I know that the 500 people who seek support each year from STAR, which serves East Baton Rouge and the surrounding six parishes, are a small minority of the estimated 40,000 adult victims living in East Baton Rouge Parish alone.

Even so, awareness of sexual trauma and the devastating effects on individuals and communities has never been greater. Social media and nonstop news are calling unparalleled attention to the injustice of sexual trauma, as seen recently with high-profile incidents in Steubenville, India, and Penn State. This media attention helps empower survivors of sexual trauma to come forward and find support on the path to recovery.

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Baton Rouge is one of the communities standing up for sexual trauma prevention by proclaiming “It’s time ... to talk about it.” Just last week, Mayor Kip Holden proclaimed April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in East Baton Rouge Parish. STAR has several events planned for April, such as a child-abuse prevention workshop, a women’s self-defense seminar and an opportunity for businesses and organizations to get involved in spreading our message of prevention.

Sexual trauma is a community issue. That’s why we need everyone involved to eliminate this as a social problem Everyone should visit to learn more about this month’s events and about the work that STAR does on a daily basis to prevent and respond to our community’s incidences of sexual trauma.

Racheal Hebert

executive director, STAR

Baton Rouge