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Ten large teal ribbons were wrapped around poles and trees near the center of town earlier this week. They were put into place by a volunteer from The Women’s Center of Greater Danbury (WCGD), to remind everyone that April is nationally designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Attached to each ribbon is an oversize note, laminated to protect from the weather, that includes basic information about The Women’s Center, including its website, and a simple message: “The Women’s Center is here to help. We are here to talk about it.”
The ribbons have also been put out, according to Ann Rodwell-Lawton, the center’s director of education, training, and outreach, to remind people that they have a place to go to if they find themselves the victim of sexual assault.
“People know us for our shelter, and working with domestic violence victims, but we do so much more than that,” Ms Rodwell-Lawton said April 6. The Women’s Center serves residents of Danbury and 12 additional cities and towns in the vicinity, including Newtown.
According to its 2017 Annual Report, during the previous fiscal year a total of 33,312 men, women and children were the recipients of free and confidential services provided through the center’s Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Resource Services programs.
According to WCGD’s spring 2018 newsletter, one in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
There were 2,201 sexual assault clients during that fiscal year, also according to the 2017 Annual Report. The report states that The Women’s Center helped 1,303 Newtown residents, or approximately 4.6% of the town’s population of 27,865 residents (US Bureau of Census; July 1, 2016).
Ms Rodwell-Lawton said “a handful” of Newtown residents reached out to the Center concerning sexual assault during the year covered in the 2017 Annual Report. Over 100 Newtown residents were victims of domestic violence, she also noted.
“These numbers are just the people we served,” she said, “but we know that in every community there are more people who are actually assaulted. This number is just a snapshot. Those numbers are only capturing one side of the story.”
While special public programming related to sexual assault awareness is not planned for April, Ms Rodwell-Lawton said the Women’s Center education and training team is out, “every single day, doing educational awareness programs.”
Women’s Center staff has worked with Newtown High School for “many, many years,” she said, offering two programs in health classes for the juniors. Last year The Women’s Center started offering educational programs for both grades at Newtown Middle School, she said.
“We have been working really closely with the health coordinator for the district,” she said, “to expand into elementary schools, which we are doing this spring.”
This spring, a WCGD team will do programming with fourth grade students.
Appropriate work for that age group, she said, means teaching those students about boundaries, “specific boundaries around their bodies, how the can communicate those boundaries with others, and how to ask permission,” Ms Roswell-Lawton explained. Asking permission comes into play when someone wants to hug a classmate, she said.
“You’re going into their bubble,” she said. “Telling children that they have the right to their body — that their body is theirs, and that they own it — and that they have a right to tell people that they can touch it in a way that makes them uncomfortable, that’s the way we start educating younger generations.”
Meanwhile, Women’s Center services include sending an advocate to Danbury Hospital if someone is admitted to the ER due to sexual assault.
“They go directly to the hospital, to connect victims to our services, and advocate for their needs in that system, including forensic evidence collection and kits,” Ms Roswell-Lawton said.
“We also have advocates at Danbury Superior Court that help victims navigate that system as well,” she said. “They also help victims obtain different orders of protection.”
It is these types of services that Women’s Center staff and volunteers hope people will think of when they see those teal ribbons during the next few weeks. Beyond April, they want residents of the 13 towns and cities served by WCGD — men, women and children, of all ages — to know that they are always there to help.
The Women’s Center of Greater Danbury is at 2 West Street, Danbury. All services provided by the nonprofit organization are done free of charge and in confidence.
Its Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at 203-731-5204.
Its Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 203-731-5206.
The general phone number, for the counseling and administrative headquarters, is 203-731-5200. For additional information visit wcogd.org.
Teal ribbons and large tags have been wrapped around light posts near the western end of Church Hill Road, including the one pictured here, as well as on poles along Main Street, during the past week. The effort was done by a Women’s Center of Greater Danbury volunteer to raise awareness of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
—Bee Photo, Crevier