Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh and other law enforcement and community leaders unveiled a public awareness campaign Wednesday designed to make victims of sexual assault more comfortable with reporting crimes.

The "Start by Believing" campaign — created by San Diego-based End Violence Against Women International — will include signs on buses, billboards, and newspaper and web-based advertisements. The goal is to have authorities, friends and family be more welcoming, sensitive and empathetic so victims share their stories and receive help, while at the same time offenders don't go unpunished.

"Victims, especially survivors of sexual assault, need our support and we can do that very easily," Walsh said while announcing the initiative before an overflowing crowd at the nonprofit Victim Assistance Program offices in downtown Akron. "We can do that by believing."

She noted that 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults aren't reported, whether victims fear they won't be believed, retaliation, embarrassment or the emotional cost.

Advocates also admitted that not every victim is telling the truth and accusations still have to be investigated.

"We have to be ready for that but if we start by not believing, the other thousand that don't come forward because we're so mad about the one who took advantage of our time or who needed a different type of service and came to us instead or tried to use the system to their benefit because of another reason, then we have hurt 999," said Terri Heckman, chief executive officer of the Rape Crisis Center of Summit and Medina Counties.

Victims shouldn't have to suffer in silence, she said.

Others lending their support to the campaign at the announcement included the Summit County Sheriff's Office, Akron police and firefighters, Cuyahoga Falls police, Munroe Falls police, Stow police, University of Akron, Cleveland Clinic Akron General nurses and Summa Health police.

The prosecutor's office is paying for the campaign through a Victims of Crime Act grant. For more details about the campaign, go to: www.startbybelieving.org.

 

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.