National statistics indicate that nearly one in five women have experienced rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives.
While April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, The Women’s Center of Waukesha works year-round to bring greater awareness to sexual violence and the efforts being made to combat it. The 40-year-old center serves women, children and men impacted by domestic abuse, sexual violence, child abuse and trafficking.
"[When The Women's Center was founded] in 1977, these were considered women's issues. In fact, it used to be called 'displaced homemakers,'" executive director Angela Mancuso explains. "These are crimes that are so prevalent and are committed every day in every community, in every subset of every community, that that's the trend. It just keeps happening despite awareness and people need more supportive services."
Mancuso says it's a benefit to have many supportive services under one roof. The Women's Center helps with safe refuge, basic needs, legal advocacy, rape crisis response, counseling and support groups, transitional living, mental health support, safety planning and more.
"The onus really is on [survivors]. They have to advocate for themselves, so our role is to be their partner and provide a foundation to make it as easy and smooth as possible," she says.
Mancuso admits that a great disconnect still remains when it comes to public understanding of domestic abuse, sexual violence, child abuse and trafficking.
"Real change happens over time and it's a process, it's not an event, it's not just going to happen," she explains. "So I think part of the disconnect is that it can seem like a never ending exhausting wave of victim blaming and shaming."
Mancuso says that if you want to make an effort to be more understanding and supportive of those who are going through trauma, simply think before you speak. "[It's about] recognizing that it is a big deal when someone discloses to you," she says.
"Especially around sexual assault, it’s very hard for everybody to understand and reconcile what that is. And we don’t want to believe it’s true, we don’t want to believe that someone we know has been harmed, so we try to rationalize it away. That’s very damaging to the victim," Mancuso explains.
She adds, "If you say anything, just say, 'I'm sorry that happened to you;' say, 'I believe you;' you can say, 'When you're ready to talk I'm here for you. Is there anything that I can do for you right now?' And then just stop talking and give that survivor some space because they may not know what they need in that moment."
The Women’s Center, Inc. will be hosting their annual (em)Power Luncheon Wednesday featuring actor and advocate Terry Crews as the keynote speaker via satellite. If you need help or services from the Women’s Center, you can reach out to their 24-hour confidential hotline at 262-542-3828, or toll free at 1-888-542-3828.