Led by Councilwoman Delia Jasso, a group of sexual assault resource centers and the Dallas Police Department held a press conference today at City Hall announcing the sexual assault awareness campaign that's been launched in response to a 25% increase in sexual assault offenses this year. Officially, we didn't hear much that we didn't already apprise you of when we got the campaign's press release yesterday.
In short, the city's rolling out a more comprehensive group of tactics: There'll be more cops in entertainment districts, on bike and on foot, and off-duty officers will be encouraged to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior. Special training will be offered to officers. Educational programs in high school and college will deal with consent -- "no means no" was heard a number of times during the conference. (Which is great -- but, as an aside to the task force: yes means yes is also pretty fantastic. Maybe next year?)
But wait, there's more. As alcohol is involved in the majority of the offenses -- as in both victims and perpetrators may have been drinking -- there'll be booze education and awareness campaigns. These will be aimed not just at women, but at men who commit rape, according to council member Delia Jasso. In her brief official statement, she had a message to perpetrators of assault: "Anger and alcohol do not mix." Which is interesting not only because it calls out rapists, but because it acknowledges an important, oft-overlooked aspect of rape -- that this is a crime about power and control, not sex.
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After the speechifying, I talked with Jasso and Assistant Chief Cynthia Villarreal about the new, expanded plan.
Both emphasized that rape victims are not to blame for their assault. "This is not a victims-only issue," Jasso said. Potential (and, one guesses, actual) rapists "need to be educated on the fact that there are consequences."
In pursuit of those consequences, Villarreal said that victims should not be afraid to report sexual assaults. "They need to understand that they are not to blame," said Villarreal. "Sometimes the victim thinks they did something that made, that 'I caused this.' That's not true." Villarreal promised that DPD would make every effort to "find that sexual predator," but they can't do it unless crimes are reported as soon as possible, as in: Call 911 immediately if you've been attacked.
This is an encouraging step in the right direction. Here's hoping the momentum and conversation continues so that we're not back here next year looking at even higher numbers.