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Hochul designates April 5 'Start By Believing Day' to support survivors of sexual assault


Thu, Apr 6th 2023 09:25 am

New York participates in global campaign to raise awareness about importance of supporting survivors, to educate families, friends, colleagues, law enforcement & other professionals about how they can improve their response if someone discloses an assault

√ Read proclamation here

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday issued a proclamation designating April 5 as “Start by Believing Day,” part of a national campaign to raise awareness of the importance of supporting survivors of sexual assault. “Start by Believing Day” is part of a national effort by End Violence Against Women International to educate families, friends, colleagues, and law enforcement and other professionals about how to improve their response if someone discloses an assault.

"Survivors of sexual assault must be treated with support, dignity, compassion and justice," Hochul said. "By amplifying these voices and listening to their stories, we can continue to take steps to make real change and empower survivors."

Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado said, "In New York, we listen to survivors and we believe survivors. We are proud to take these steps to combat sexual assault, build safer communities, and ensure survivors have the resources, support and respect they deserve. Your voice matters and it will always be heard."

Sgt. Joanne Archambault (Ret.), founder and CEO of End Violence Against Women International, said, "On ‘Start by Believing Day,’ communities around the world unify with a single voice for sexual assault victims: We hear you, and we are here to help. It is outstanding to have so many New Yorkers join the call and help transform responses to survivors. We thank Gov. Hochul, members of her cabinet, and the state's public safety professionals for their support, and encourage everyone to remember that the simple acts of listening and believing can save lives."

Members of Hochul's cabinet joined the campaign, sharing their support on social media and taking the “Start by Believing” pledge. To date, more than 12,000 organizations and individuals have done so. “Start by Believing Day” occurs annually in April because the month is designated nationally and in New York as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Hochul’s team said, “Individuals who have been sexually assaulted are far more likely to tell a friend, loved one or family member. If their disclosure is met with disbelief, skepticism, doubt or shame, they are less likely to report the incident to police or seek help for physical or emotional trauma. This results in further harm to their physical and psychological well-being. End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) created the ‘Start by Believing’ campaign to educate professionals and the public about those negative effects, and to share information and resources to empower individuals to explore their options and next steps.”

Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, "We know that many victims of sexual assault don't report to police, but they also may be reluctant to seek medical care, which means they do not get the physical and emotional care they need at an incredibly difficult time. As a former special victims prosecutor, I have seen first-hand how access to care and support can make all the difference in an individual's life and their willingness to engage with the criminal justice system to hold their perpetrator accountable. I applaud Gov. Hochul for embracing this campaign and working every day to ensure victims and survivors are heard, respected and believed."

Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Kelli Owens said, "We can remove stigma and further trauma when we believe survivors who disclose a sexual assault. Our agency is committed to believing survivors and honoring their courage as a cornerstone of the state's effort to build a more survivor-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive service delivery system with our partners at the Office of Victim Services. Thank you, Gov. Hochul, for recognizing 'Start by Believing Day' in New York state, and for supporting survivors of sexual assault and all gender-based violence."

The Office of Victim Services (OVS) funds and supports 239 victim assistance programs statewide that provide essential services, such as crisis counseling, support groups, case management, emergency shelter, civil legal help, and relocation assistance, among other assistance, to victims and survivors of sexual assault and other crimes, and their families.

Individuals may visit ovs.ny.gov/connect to find these programs, which provide services at no cost and regardless of whether an individual has reported the crime to police. New York state's domestic and sexual violence hotline is available for confidential support and advocacy 24/7: 800-942-6906 (voice), 844-997-2121 (text) and opdv.ny.gov (chat).

OVS also directly reimburses medical providers for the cost of a forensic rape exam (FRE) if an individual does not have private health insurance or chooses not to use their private health care insurance for the examination. This measure is an exception to the agency's payer of last resort rule, and provides for the personal privacy of victims. The agency also accepts FRE claims in lieu of police reports, which enable individuals to seek financial assistance and reimbursement from OVS for other expenses related to the crime.

Commission of Correction Chair Allen Riley said, "Sexual assault is all too prevalent, yet in our society, we hesitate to believe the accounts of victims who come forward, especially if those individuals disclose an incident that occurred while they were incarcerated. As we support survivors and advance their rights, it is crucial that we also amplify the importance of reporting to law enforcement so perpetrators can be held accountable, and we reduce victimization.”

Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Rossana Rosado said, "The Division of Criminal Justice Services provides funding to police departments, prosecutors, and rape crisis programs, and distributes sexual offense evidence collection kits to hospitals and health care facilities at no cost. These resources help law enforcement, victim advocates and medical professionals better support individuals who decide to bravely speak their truth and disclose their assault. We will always stand with victims and survivors and continue our work to help ensure a fair and equitable criminal justice system that treats all New Yorkers with the dignity and respect they deserve."

Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray said, "It is staggering the number of women and men who will experience sexual assault or abuse in their lifetimes, and for far, far too many, the abuse begins during their teenage years. Sexual assault and sexual abuse thrive in silence. Only by believing survivors can we create the safety needed for people to tell their truth, tell their stories, and begin to heal. And only through creating space for survivors to come forward will we ever be able to hold perpetrators accountable."

Division of Human Rights Commissioner Maria Imperial said, "At the New York State Division of Human Rights, we promote gender justice by standing against harassment and violence. This begins by listening to and believing in the stories of women and girls. Our mission is to ensure dignity and autonomy for all people. Women's rights are human rights; we are proud to take this pledge."

Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci said, "It is important that we believe victims and survivors of sexual assault regardless of where the assault occurs. All survivors deserve our support, and all perpetrators need to be brought to justice.”

Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Viviana DeCohen said, "As an agency run by veterans for veterans, we understand the importance of believing and supporting one another through our most difficult times. Know that we see you, we believe you and we stand ready to assist you. ‘Start by Believing Day’ provides an opportunity for us to become better informed and equipped to serve and support survivors of sexual assault on their journey of healing and empowerment."

New York State Police Acting Superintendent Steven A. Nigrelli said, "Bringing justice to victims of sexual assault and empowering individuals to make a difference is a priority for the New York State Police. Through the dedicated work of our investigators, we help to provide safe and supportive avenues for victims to report assaults and violence. By raising awareness about sexual assault and encouraging victims to report, we can help to reduce incidents of sexual assaults, and stop sexual violence in all forms.”

Maj. Gen. Raymond Shields, the adjutant general of New York state, said, "The New York National Guard is committed to an environment in which our men and women can thrive, as they serve our state and nation. Every unrestricted allegation of sexual assault is reported to the NY State Police. We take every sexual assault and harassment seriously. and ensure that our soldiers and airmen are heard, and their cases handled responsibly. Our highest priority is the safety of our Soldiers and Airmen."

Hochul’s team said, “The Office of Victim Services funds and supports a statewide network of victim assistance programs and provides a critical financial safety net for individuals who have expenses related to a crime but no other resources to pay them. The agency provides financial assistance and reimbursement to eligible victims of crime and their families for medical and counseling expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and support, in addition to other assistance. Follow the Office of Victim Services on Twitter and Facebook.”

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