Winnemucca Domestic Violence Services is working to raise awareness for a global campaign called “Start by Believing.” Various community members have taken the pledge to “Start by Believing” someone who has been a victim of rape or sexual assault.
According to the "Start by Believing" website, “as few as one in five victims report their sexual assault, so they often don’t get the help they need. Without a report, law enforcement misses the chance to identify perpetrators in the community, repeat offenders go undetected, and more people are victimized.”
The goal of the campaign is to end victim blaming in sexual assault and rape, but also applies to victims of domestic violence. There are flyers around Winnemucca to help educate people on what to say to someone who states they are a victim of one of these crimes.
One of the example responses from the Start by Believing campaign says “I believe you. I’m sorry this happened. How can I help?”
According to WDVS Program Director Stephanie Johnson, “If someone is sexually assaulted, a very large number of people contact a friend or relative first and depending how that first person responds can change how they deal with it and whether they report it to law enforcement.”
To make a personal commitment to Start by Believing, individuals pledge to start by believing when someone tells them they were raped or sexual assaulted, support survivors on the road to justice and healing and help to end the silence. “We want to change not just organizations, but how everyone feels about sexual assault,” said Johnson.
Johnson approached the Winnemucca Police Department (WPD) to partner with them as a Start by Believing organization to advocate for the cause in the community. She hopes to work with other organizations in the community to partner for the cause.
The campaign was originally launched in April 2011 by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI). Start by Believing day is the first Wednesday of April each year, proclaimed in 2015.
"I think it’s a great campaign. I have to say, as a seasoned officer in law enforcement, I can’t count the number of sexual assault cases I’ve investigated - and you tend to get a little jaded because of the number that turn out not to be substantiated. However, it takes time investigation to determine whether a claim of sexual assault or domestic violence can be substantiated. You just can’t tell right away. It’s refreshing to see this approach because the evidence may never come forward at all if the victim is not treated well by law enforcement,” said WPD Captain Pam Coats.