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Incidents of rape reported to the Rape Crisis Center in Clark County have increased – a lot.
The center reported a 25-percent increase from 2016 to 2017. And this is at a time when sexual harassment and assault are on the minds of Nevadans, after such accusations led to the resignation of storied casino operator Steve Wynn.
Desert Companion’s Heidi Kyser was at a fundraiser for the Rape Crisis Center in downtown Las Vegas this week, and she talked to participants, including assault survivors, about their concerns.
Kyser said people at the event attributed the increase in rape reporting to the public awareness generated by the #MeToo Movement.
“They are really drawing a direct connection between public awareness of how pervasive sexual assault is and the opportunity now to talk about it, to get resolution, to help (avoid creating) other potential victims of someone who has perpetrated this crime,” she said.
The executive director of the center told Kyser that people are feeling more comfortable about talking about what happened to them, even decades ago.
While it is a good thing that women and men feel comfortable to come forward and tell their stories, it does make it difficult to know if there is an actual increase in sexual violence crimes.
“There’s no way to actually pull those apart," Kyser said, "Are there more sexual assaults or are there more being reported?”
As more people come forward, the stigma attached to the topic is also starting to lessen. Kyser said that, after survivors of sexual violence told their stories to the packed room on Wednesday, everyone stood and applauded in a show of support.
The event also gave the Rape Crisis Center a chance to debunk some of the myths surrounding sexual assault and to impart information about the crime.
For instance, 5 percent of victims are male. Most victims are between the ages of 12 and 64. And, perhaps most concerning for tourism officials in Nevada, 30 percent of people who report being assaulted in Southern Nevada are from out of state. In addition, 20 percent of assaults happen in a setting where alcohol is served.
It is statistics like these that led the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the center to launch the Stay SAFE program nearly two years ago. SAFE stands for sexual assault-free environment.
The program trains anyone who has to have an alcohol awareness card how to spot signs of a potential assault and to intervene appropriately and effectively.
“Essentially it teaches awareness, so how to identify when a potential sexual assault situation is developing and then what to do once you’ve identified that,” Kyser said.
So far, more than 3,000 bartenders, security guards, bouncers and others have undergone the training. Some two dozen interventions have been reported since the program started in the fall of 2016, according to Metro's crime prevention unit.
Another important topic highlighted at the event was the problem of assault on the job. The Culinary Union is working on establishing a safety button program at the casino-hotels with which it has contracts.
Under the program, people who work alone, for instance, hotel maids, would be given a necklace with a button that could be pressed if they felt they were in a threatening situation. The button would alert security and someone would be dispatched to help.
The Rape Crisis Center hotline number is 702-366-1640. For more information, visit www.rcclv.org.
Heidi Kyser, staff writer, Desert Companion
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