Campaigns Like Denim Day, #Me Too Lead More Victims to Report Sex Crimes to Pasadena’s Special Victims Unit

Today’s Denim Day raises sexual assault awareness, year-round Pasadena’s SVU hunts perpetrators, helps victims

Published : Wednesday, April 24, 2019 | 4:40 AM

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website, one out of every six American women and one out of every 33 men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in his or her lifetime. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Lenhardt

The Me Too movement has brought a new focus on the work done by sexual assault professionals in Pasadena, where there is an abundance of resources to help victims report and cope with the violence.

On Wednesday, Peace Over Violence will hold its Denim Day campaign, annually held in April to support Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Locally, Peace Over Violence, the Pasadena Police Department’s Special Victims Unit and organizations like Elizabeth House work together to help victims of sexual assault find a safe place to report violence and then recover from it physically and emotionally.

Taking a team approach helps the various organizations work with victims of sexual assault to make them whole again, or at least be able to move on with their lives.

Denim Day is intended to help people talk about sexual assault. The campaign was originally brought on by a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove them, thereby implying consent. The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim.

Many TV viewers may think they are familiar with the work done by Special Victims Units. These highly specialized departments not only investigate crimes that involve sexual assault, they also help the victim move on and start to regain control over their own life.

The Pasadena Police Dept.’s Special Victims Unit is responsible for investigating any documented incident regarding domestic violence, sexual assaults of adults and minors, elder abuse and also the investigations of missing persons.

That covers a range of cases that have to do with sex crimes across ages and demographics.

The department has seen an increase since the “Me Too” movement, according to Sgt. Carolyn Gordon, supervisor of Pasadena’s SVU.

“What I can tell you is that the reason that we are the special victims unit is because all victims are special to us,” Gordon said.

She said the investigating the cases where sex abuse has occurred is challenging but a lot more goes on than just taking a report.

“We take it very seriously,” Gordon said. “And there’s not one particular case because I could name one every week. We saw a lot more after the Me Too movement.”

Gordon said the types of crimes she sees in the SVU come in all degrees of violation. But there is always a common thread.

“So it’s a particular person and there’s some violation there,” Gordon said. “Could be touching, it could be rape. Our special victims often include domestic violence victims. So we look at them as being special, taking the time to listen to them, to understand, make sure that they get the resources that they need.”

There is a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) within the SVU, indicating that the department understands there is an emotional aspect beyond just taking the report.

“It’s not just that we take the case, we want to make sure that they’re getting resources, and that’s the purpose of our SART team that we have here at the police department,” she said.

“[Victims] don’t really ‘get over it’ until we look for some type of help for them, ie. counseling, and that’s why we use our SART team a lot, so that they have somebody who advocates for them,” Gordon said.

Gordon said that Denim Day is an informative opportunity to help people meet, talk and work to understand the various aspects to sexual assault.

“I think that it’s very important and I think it’s a topic that should be discussed,” she said. “And I think that anyone who is a victim of any type of sexual assault should feel comfortable [to come to us] so that we may apprehend the suspect or the perpetrator.”

There are aspects of sexual assault that go beyond the police station.

Debora Unruh executive director of Elizabeth House in Pasadena said her organization adult women who are pregnant and experiencing homelessness, domestic violence or lack of family support.

“By the time they come to us, they have either filed a report with the police or sometimes they’ve had incidents since they’ve been in our program, but usually, it happens prior to them coming to us,” Unruh said. “They might be referred to us from the police department.”

Here too, Unruh said, there has been an increase in the number of women she is seeing who have experienced sexual assault.

“I would say that we have had an increase in the last three years of women who have experienced some form of violence or sexual exploitation in regards to like sex traffic, that kind of thing,” Unruh said.

Peace Over Violence said unlike a random attack from an unknown assailant, domestic violence continues to be an area of focus because there is a relationship and dependency involved.

“It’s tough because when it comes to domestic violence, this is someone that chooses to be in a relationship,” said Britni Soto, marketing and communications manager for Peace Over Violence, which teams with Pasadena police on cases as a supportive advocate.

“So it’s not that they are okay with getting hit, but they don’t even want the person to go to jail because they have a relationship with this person. They want the violence to stop,” she said.

Soto said it’s important to surround assault victims with more than one supportive organization.

“They have the advocates,” she said. “Peace Over Violence and Pasadena PD, being very empathetic, that’s huge.”

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