Winona advocacy groups will host several community events in the upcoming weeks to raise awareness about sexual assault and child abuse as well as resources available for survivors.
“It’s just a matter of making it a topic that’s easier to talk about, bringing awareness to the community that sexual assault does happen in Winona,” said Danielle Swedberg, coordinator of community services with Family & Children’s Center. “We want to make that more known so it’s easier for victims to be able to talk about it, it’s easier to be able to get resources and help.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Awareness Month.
The Advocacy Center of Winona provided over 7,500 services in 2022 to survivors of sexual assault.
“When we talk about the number of individuals who are affected in our community, and the amount of services that we provide, we know that it is very prevalent. We also know that not everybody is coming to the Advocacy Center, so the actual rate of sexual assault in our community is a lot higher,” said Advocacy Center of Winona Director Crystal Hegge.
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The number of sexual assaults reported or prosecuted may not reflect the real number of occurrences, but support programs exist outside of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
“Sometimes going to police right away isn’t comfortable or isn’t the preference for victims — so where on campus, where in the community can they seek services for that?” Swedberg said.
Advocacy Center of Winona will host an event at 5 p.m. Monday, April 17, at Island City Brewing Co. to raise awareness about sexual assault.
Family and Children’s Center is also hosting two free public events explaining the signs and symptoms of child abuse — one at 5 p.m. April 19 at the La Crosse Family & Children’s Center and another at 5 p.m. April 25 at the Winona center.
“That’s an important piece that we’re trying to talk about with these signs and symptoms, we want more people to report it,” said Karrie Hahn, Minnesota director of programs. “It’s better to err on the side of safety and for nothing to come out of it, to protect that child.”
In Winona and La Crosse combined, the Family & Children’s Center responded to 639 requests for services regarding child abuse cases in 2022.
The Family & Children’s Center and Winona State University will hold a child abuse awareness walk starting at 4 p.m. April 25 near Phelps Hall in Winona.
Both organizations participate in the Winona County Sexual Assault Interagency Council, a team hosted by the County Attorney’s Office consisting of representatives from service organizations, medical institutions, law enforcement and universities.
The interagency council is holding a sexual assault awareness walk starting April 30 at the Hiawatha Valley Marine Shelter.
In 2022, the group updated the Winona County Adult Sexual Assault Response Protocol, a series of general guidelines for organizations, hospitals and government agencies to create a more “victim-centered approach to sexual assault crimes.”
Advocacy Center of Winona, dedicated to empowering survivors of sexual assault and violence, offers a 24/7 crisis line and other direct support services including emergency and relocation shelters, legal advocacy, support groups, accompaniment to meetings with medical staff and law enforcement, and Title IX services for university students.
“We’re trained to walk through all of the options and allow somebody to have the empowerment to make that decision on what happens next,” Hegge said.
The organization also organized an educational program for youth on identifying toxic relationships, consent and boundaries.
Family & Children’s Center offers programs aimed at the safety of family, children and adults, including programs aimed at domestic and child abuse prevention and intervention, support for new parents facing additional pressure, transitional housing.