April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the United States and the attention generated during this time helps energize and expand ACTS efforts throughout the year. Working alongside volunteers, survivors, advocates, and other allied professionals, ACTS Sexual Assault Services is engaging the Greater Prince William community through special education and outreach activities.
Learning about sexual violence is important because more than likely, someone you know has been victimized. In fact, every two minutes an American is sexually assaulted and every eight minutes, child protective services substantiates, or finds evidence for, a claim of child sexual abuse. And, most of the time, the victim knows the perpetrator. Sexual violence does not discriminate based on race, physical appearance, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, disability or a victim’s background. Adding to the problem, sexual violence doesn’t just affect the victim. Family members, friends, co-workers and anyone close to the victim can be impacted as well. Left unaddressed, sexual violence can have long-term effects. Even though it is never the victim's fault, many struggle with feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, fear, and other trauma related mental and physical illnesses.
Fortunately, ACTS Sexual Assault Services is here to help. As the only organization in Greater Prince William County that provides sexual assault services, it is important that the community is educated about what we do and that our resources are available at no charge. Our services include individual and group support, counseling, hospital accompaniment, court advocacy and accompaniment, Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) classes, Yoga for ACTS trauma clients, community education, and a 24/7 sexual assault hotline.
Sexual Assault Services FAQs
What is the difference between the Specialist and Trauma Counselor roles?
“Specialists provide peer support to clients (ages 12+) who have experienced sexual trauma; accompany and advocate for clients in court and in the hospital; provide support to clients on the hotline; and lead support groups. Specialists are required to have a Bachelor's degree in Psychology or related field or equivalent experience, and a background dealing with crisis.
“As a Trauma Counselor, I provide therapy services to clients (children, teens, adults) who have experienced/witnessed sexual and/or domestic violence. In therapy, individuals and families learn new skills to help process thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic life events; manage and resolve distressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; improve communication and relationships with others; and enhance coping and parenting skills. I am required to have at least a Master's degree in counseling or related field, experience working with sexual and domestic violence victims, and a clinical license or working towards a clinical license.” Sultana Karim, Trauma Counselor, ACTS Clinical Services
What is it like accompanying clients to court?
“As a Sexual Assault Specialist, it gives me a sense of relief because I know how important it is for my clients to have support when they go to court, meet with detectives and prosecutors, and then testify in front of their perpetrator. I help them understand and get though all the complicated court processes while supporting them emotionally since there are so many things that can serve as triggers. Giving my clients support through one-on-one counseling and accompanying them to court is part of the healing process.” Maggie Perez, ACTS Sexual Assault Specialist.
How do teenagers benefit from the support group you facilitate?
My group is a safe space, designed to allow a traumatized teenager to process their trauma - and realize it's okay to be a teenager, too. Nobody ever really talks about sexual assault and incest - it's not something that "polite people" discuss, and all too often, survivors are stigmatized as broken or lost. Group helps survivors see themselves as whole people - people to whom trauma occurred, but who are not defined by their trauma. They're able to connect with other teens, talk about emotions that others just might not understand, and - more importantly - realize that they're still teenagers, who have the same need to connect, learn, and grow...” Clara Martin, ACTS Sexual Assault Specialist.
What is it like to facilitate an AMAC (Adults Molested As Children) support group at the PWC Adult Detention Center (ADC)?
“An AMAC group at the jail differs from a support group at the office in several ways. The turnover of group members is greater as inmates come and go more frequently. This can hamper trust issues as the group dynamic changes with each new person starting. Trust is a major problem for all survivors and is especially so for inmates at the ADC. Most of them are addicts, which has interfered with their emotional growth and caused additional complications in their healing. It is both challenging and rewarding to be a part of their learning process on the journey toward a healthier lifestyle.” Shirley Hopkins, ACTS Sexual Assault Specialist.
What can the average person do to help victims of sexual violence?
“My first instinct is to ask that if someone shares with you that they have been assaulted or abused, that you support them as best you can. You can do this by telling the survivor that you believe them and that it isn't their fault, and then you just listen and, of course, share our contact information.
“Bystander intervention is probably the best way to combat potential sexual abuse or assaults. If you see something that looks as if a person may be victimized, do your best to provide an "out". Say you're at a party and you see someone pressuring an obviously inebriated and uncomfortable guest to leave with them; tell the potential victim that someone is looking for them, ask if he or she needs help, or just simply join in the conversation. Sometimes that's all it takes to deter someone, and if doesn't work, ask others to step in and assist.
“Finally, I encourage people to consider volunteering with ACTS Sexual Assault Services. We utilize trained volunteers to assist survivors who call our 24-hour sexual assault hotline and/or to accompany recent victims at their forensic exams at the hospital. If you would like to volunteer, please call Terry, our Community Educator, at 703-441-8606, ext. 702.” Lydia Teutsch, Director, ACTS Sexual Assault Services
What is ACTS doing during Sexual Assault Awareness Month?
“Most importantly, we are identifying and reaching out to key organizations in the county that can help us achieve cultural change and support our efforts year round. On Friday, April 21, 11:30-1, we are hosting a symposium at the ACTS Manassas office where survivors will be sharing their stories, Bikers Against Child Abuse (B.A.C.A.) will be explaining their unique way of supporting victims, and ACTS Trauma Counselor, Sultana Karim, will be talking about the effects of sexual trauma and treatment options. We are also asking area restaurants and bars to display ACTS sexual assault resource cards in their restrooms in an effort to victims safely. Of course, there are many community presentations planned, visible teal colored promotions, and other things in the works too.” Terry Swirchak, Community Educator, ACTS Sexual Assault Services