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When a survivor discloses sexual assault, the response they receive can have a significant impact on their trauma symptoms.

“Victims may be better off receiving no support at all than receiving reactions they consider to be hurtful,” according to Dr. Rebecca Campbell, a leader in neurobiology of trauma.

Conversely, survivors who feel believed and those who feel they have someone supportive to talk to have fewer physical and psychological symptoms. This knowledge is the premise behind the Start by Believing campaign.

Started by End Violence Against Women International, Start by Believing is a public awareness campaign to change the way people respond to sexual violence in our communities. The organization wants to help prepare individuals and organizations to respond appropriately, with empathy and understanding, to disclosures of victimization.

Part of that preparation includes bringing people to a general understanding of trauma and its varying effects. Everyone defines and reacts to trauma differently. Start by Believing provides materials and resources to increase understanding of trauma and learn victim-centered, trauma-informed reactions that will help victims, rather than hurt them further.

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Hope House approached a number of professionals in Sauk County regarding the campaign. They recognized the importance of it and proudly took the pledge. Hope House of South Central Wisconsin, the Baraboo Police Department, Sauk County Sheriff’s Department, and the Sauk County District Attorney’s Office all have established themselves as Start by Believing agencies. In addition, the Sauk County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously and approved a resolution proclaiming the first Wednesday of each April as Start by Believing Day in Sauk County.

In pledging support to the Start by Believing campaign, agencies have recognized the road blocks that sexual assault survivors face when reporting to law enforcement, medical facilities and even peers and loved ones. Current research shows only 5-20 percent of victims report their sexual assault to law enforcement, 16-60 percent seek mental health services and less than half receive medical care or obtain a forensic medical exam.

Start by Believing and the agencies that sign on to the pledge understand this is both a systemic and personal issue and vow to take steps to encourage survivors to feel more comfortable in exploring the option of reporting.

Across the nation, Start by Believing campaigns have increased awareness on the issues of reporting and increased police reports, medical forensic exams and advocate accompaniments. If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, take comfort in knowing the measures Sauk County and many agencies are committed to taking to help you feel comfortable exploring your rights.

Elizabeth Lawton is the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Project coordinator at Hope House of South Central Wisconsin. To learn more about the Start by Believing campaign, visit startbybelieving.org. Hope House offers free and confidential support and resources for those who have been sexually assaulted and can be reached at 608-356-7500 or 800-584-6790.

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