Statewide forum organized by Hadassah Connecticut
By Stacey Dresner
CROMWELL – Hadassah Connecticut, comprised of 18 chapters in Connecticut as well as the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, will present a special state-wide forum on violence against women on Sunday, June 4 from 2-4:30 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott in Cromwell.
The community forum will highlight violence against women as an American and worldwide problem. Attendees will hear survivors and advocates speak about domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault. The Forum will end with a call-to-action detailing how individuals and the community can help in fighting for women affected by violence.
The Forum will feature Hadassah’s National Advocacy Division, PRAZE (Programming, Advocacy, Zionism, Education). Connie Cirillo Freeman, former president of Hadassah Connecticut and current National PRAZE division team leader for advocacy, will represent National Hadassah’s positions on the forum panel and stress the importance Hadassah places on advocating for women’s health and wellbeing around the globe.
The forum panel, which will include survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking, as well as professionals from agencies dealing with the issue, will be led by Gayle Weinstein of Weston, former first selectwoman for the town of Weston and current board president of the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education. Serving Lower Fairfield County, the Center provides free, 24-hour confidential counseling, as well as medical and legal help to men, women and children who have experienced sexual assault. Additionally, it provides age and developmentally appropriate awareness and prevention education.
Recently, the Ledger spoke with Weinstein about Hadassah’s community-wide forum and about the issue of violence against women.
JEWISH LEDGER (JL): How prevalent is sexual assault in Connecticut and the U.S.?
GAYLE WEINSEIN (GW): Sexual assault is the most underreported crime. Most sexual assaults are by someone known to the perpetrator, so victims are hesitant to come forward. Ninety percent of the time, children are sexually abused by someone they know; 30 percent of the time it is a direct family member. On college campuses, incidences of students being given date rape drugs have increased, and those impacted don’t often report for a variety of reasons. Nationally, 25 percent of women and 17 percent of men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
In Connecticut, 14 percent of residents have experienced childhood sexual assault – 18 percent of girls and seven percent of boys.
Every 109 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Every eight minutes, that victim is a child. Nevertheless, only six out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison. In 2013, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found 22 million images and videos of child sexual abuse on the internet.
JL: Has violence against women in the U.S. increased in recent years?
GW: Given the fact that violence against women has historically been underreported, it is difficult to say that violence is increasing. Rather, I think the reporting both by media and by the victims to the authorities have increased. Media attention to these crimes is critical: Only 67 percent of Connecticut residents have seen or heard information on sexual assault, and 70 percent of Connecticut residents report that parents did/do not discuss sexual assault with them. I’m sure the statistics are even lower for domestic violence and human trafficking. One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and it is the third leading cause of homelessness in the U.S. With regard to human trafficking, because of the hidden nature of the crime, it is essentially impossible to know how many for sure. And while statistics vary on the number of children in the U.S. who are trafficked, we firmly believe the number is by far in excess of 100,000.
The media attention also gives a voice to victims so that they can feel that they are not alone, and are willing to step up. Unfortunately, the prosecution rate of perpetrators is still incredibly low.
JL: How has the election of Trump and his statements about women had an effect?
GW: The commonality of these crimes is that they are all about the perpetrator exerting power over the victim. Men who are in positions of power sometimes feel “entitled” to “take” what they want. Trump’s statements, as well as actions by other high-profile men, including Bill O’Reilly, have exemplified this. Men and women on both sides of the aisle were appalled by these actions, and prompted many to say this is not okay. Unfortunately, there is still a segment of the population who feel Trump’s statements “was just locker room talk.” To me, even joking (and in Trump’s case, bragging) about sexual assault is reprehensible and should not be tolerated. The media attention around these comments gave us another platform to bring to light the seriousness of these crimes.
JL: The Hadassah panel will include victims of abuse who will tell their stories. How does this help in the effort to end violence against women?
GW: All of these crimes are so deeply personal. The survivors are incredibly brave to come forward and share their experiences. It is their stories that put a human face to the issue, making the connection between statistics and the impact of lives. It is the human connection that will compel others to take action.
The Community Forum on Violence Against Women
The Community Forum on Violence Against Women and Call to Action, hosted by Hadassah Connecticut, will be held June 4, 2-4:30 p.m. at Courtyard Marriot in Cromwell, visit Hadassah.org/events/2017/vaw, or call (203) 307-1319 or (860) 884-8945. The event is free and open to the public. Light Refreshments will be served. Attendees are requested to bring new toiletries that will be distributed to domestic violence shelters around the region.
In addition to Gayle Weinstein, other forum participants include: Even Chair Sheila Horvitz, founder of The Power of Purple Campaign: An End to Domestic Violence, in Eastern CT; Amanda Boaz, development associate at Safe Futures of Southeastern Connecticut; Priscilla Santiago, Ansonia American Job Center The Work Place, Inc.; Jillian Gilchrest, director of Health Professional Outreach for the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV); Tina Fitch, coordinator of Sexual Violence & Clinical Services of the Center for Family Justice: and Leonela Cruz-Ahuatl, program manager of Project Rescue of the International Institute of Connecticut Inc.