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Small towns try to create a safe environment for sexual assault victims

Across the country, April has become known as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Claire Kopsky (COP-skee) takes us to Mexico where she sat down with a teenage victim of sexual assault to learn how an increase in awareness and reporting is affecting several mid-Missouri communities.

MEXICO--Sexual assault affects multiple aspects of a victim’s life, especially when he or she is a minor. Victims have to deal with that trauma when they go into the courtroom, when they are at home and when they go to school.

“I got bullied really bad about it because no one knew the real story. They just kind of assumed and made up their own,” a victim of sexual assault said. KOMU8 News is protecting her identity because of the stigma associated with sexual assault and because she was a victim at the time of the crime.

Advocates such as Audrain County Crisis Intervention Services help these children work on their emotional and social health through art therapy. In addition to an advocacy setting, protecting their psychological well-being is important in these other areas.

Andy Rehmer, the assistant prosecuting attorney in Audrain County for juvenile sexual abuse cases, tries to make the courthouse as friendly as possible.

“I have toys, Barbie dolls, Nerf guns, race cars that I let the kids shoot my office staff with them. I take them around and introduce them to everyone in the courthouse. My job is to protect the children and make it as easy as possible to do the hard thing,” said Rehmer.

Rehmer said he also tries to file motions in court that can keep the child victims off the witness stand if they could be re-traumatized. It’s a traumatic experience, but Rehmer and his office want the victims to feel as comfortable as possible.

Another part of the court process can involve the organization Bikers Against Child Abuse. This group goes to court with the child victims to support them.

“They’re specifically here to go to court with the kids and to make sure that if you’re in court, and you’re terrified, they’ll like circle around you. That way, you feel safe. You don’t feel like anyone can get around them,” said this victim of sexual assault.

They also pick the kids up from home to take them on motorcycle rides. They make them vests and let them choose their “road name.” BACA has established itself in the Audrain County area within the last three years.

They have made a personal impact in their time here on sexual assault victims like this one. She said the bikers consider these kids part of the family, like brothers and sisters. If she wants to get ahold of them, all she has to do is send them a message.

“You get to know them and you like interact with them, so they’re other people you talk to too. And then once, you know, you go to court. They intimidate people because they’re like bikers. They’re big and some of them have piercings and tattoos. But they’re so funny. They crack me up,” said this victim of sexual assault.

This type of support has helped her be able to talk about her experience and be proactive. She is on the Empowering Women Committee at her high school. February was Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. This committee organized an event in connection with this month.

“We had orange heart stickers that we handed them out around the school, and I think I saw like 80 to 90 percent of the school had stickers on that day and so it was great. It was pretty cool,” said this victim of sexual assault.

This month, the Empowering Women Committee is planning on passing out stickers to their peers that say “Ask Me Why I’m Wearing Denim.” The Denim Day comes from a sexual assault case in the Italian Supreme Court where the defendant appealed based on saying the victim’s jeans were too tight. She had to have helped him get them off. Therefore, he couldn’t have raped her.

These measures in this small town are working toward educating the community about sexual assault. And now this sexual assault victim has more confidence.

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