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HRC focus on women’s safety

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If a woman’s instinct says she’s unsafe in a situation, she should trust that feeling, according to two public safety experts at last Thursday’s Human Relations Commission, or HRC, meeting.

“Listen to what your gut is telling you. Ninety nine percent of the time, it will keep you safe,” said Wendy Hoff, director of the Xenia Municipal Court’s Victim Assistance Program.

And if a woman in the village feels threatened by someone’s words or actions, she should contact the police, according to Yellow Springs Police Chief Dave Hale.

“People don’t want to be the bad guy, so they don’t call the police. And then we get wind of it on Facebook, but there’s no documentation,” he said. “If you’re upset over something that happened, it behooves you to call the police.”

Hale and Hoff were invited guests at a special HRC meeting that focused on issues around women’s safety in Yellow Springs. Prompting the event were concerns of several local women, relayed to HRC members, regarding recent incidents of sexual harassment, according to Kate Hamilton of HRC. However, according to Hale, the police have not seen an increase locally in sexual violence against women.

The March 3 meeting was the second recent meeting around the topic of sexual harassment of, and sexual violence against, women. A previous meeting, which was not public, also addressed the topic after many local women posted on Facebook about instances of unwanted sexual attention and in one case, rape.

Such violence is epidemic in the country, according to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence. Statistics show that a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds in the United States, and one in three women, along with one in four men, have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Locally, what HRC members realized from the recently expressed concerns, Hamilton said, is that some women are unsure how to handle a threatening situation. And some don’t go to police because they’re afraid that doing so will make matters worse, according to Hoff.

“There’s so many misperceptions about how things happen in the court system,” she said.

For instance, many women are unaware of the rights of victims of sexual violence as outlined in the Ohio Revised Code, Hoff said in an interview Monday. Victims have the right to information regarding medical, housing, counseling or emergency services, about protection available, including protective orders, and to information about the status of the case, among other rights.

Many women are also unaware of the services provided by the Xenia Municipal Court Victim Assistance Program, which helps to guide women who are victims of violent misdemeanors, such as domestic violence or stalking, through the court process, Hoff said.

“We want people to come to us. We want to help people,” she said.

The phone number for the agency is 376-7283.

In Greene County, victims may be unaware that they may join the sexual assault survivor support group, or SASSO, which meets every Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. For more information, contact 937-376-8526 ext. 116.

Women may not be aware that they have several options regarding how to respond to an incident of sexual violence or harassment, including filing criminal charges in a criminal court or filing a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator in a civil court, Hoff said.

And women may also not be aware that they can file to obtain a protective order to keep the offender away even if they don’t file criminal charges, according to Hoff, and that they can do so at no cost and without an attorney.

In this age of everpresent social media, women sometimes believe that using social media to bring light to a problem alerts the police department to the situation. But while the concerns that prompted the special meeting showed up on a Yellow Springs Facebook discussion site, posting on Facebook doesn’t alert police to the problem, Chief Hale said. Police need to be contacted directly, and doing so will also provide documentation of the incident. In an emergency, people should call 911; the non-emergency local police number is 767-7206.

But there are also fears that can keep women from calling the police, HRC members said. Some women believe that simply calling the police means that they are filing charges against someone. But that isn’t the case, according to Hale.

“Getting the police involved doesn’t mean you’re charging someone with a crime,” he said.

And calling police out to the scene of a problem doesn’t mean charges must be filed. In fact, he said, “Often our role is as peacekeeper or mediator rather than crime fighter.”

Women sometimes don’t call the police because they fear that if they do so, their name will show up in the Yellow Springs News police report, according to Hamilton. However, the News does not print the names of victims or callers, according to HRC member Kathryn Hitchcock, who works at the paper. Still, according to Hamilton, some women fear others will know who made the call even if the person isn’t identified.

“It’s a small town,” she said. “It’s gossipy.”

Knowing about available options when responding to a threat is a way to stay safe, Hoff believes.

“There are steps we can take to empower ourselves to not be a victim of crime,” she said.

Hale also suggested steps that women can take to stay safe with strangers, including knowing what’s normal in your neighborhood, and alerting police when something is abnormal; being cautious about telling people your plans to be away from your home; keeping doors and windows locked in the home; not walking alone at night and being aware of surroundings when outside in the dark.

“I’m not trying to make people paranoid. Yellow Springs has a low crime rate, but there are still things it’s smart to do,” he said.

The bottom line is, if a woman feels threatened, it’s best to err on the side of caution and contact local police, he said. And he’s always available if someone wants advice regarding a specific person or situation.

“You always have the right to talk to me,” he said. “My door is always open.”

Hoff agreed that, when in doubt, it’s better to take action.

“Go ahead and make the call,” Hoff said.

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