Members of WASU and the Special Victims Bureau, Photographed in the New Manhattan Family Justice Center
April is nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Today, more than three dozen members of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Witness Aid Services Unit and Special Victims Bureau donned jeans in honor of “Denim Day,” an annual event that promotes awareness of sexual violence and victim blaming.
“Every woman deserves to be safe, no matter who she is or what she is wearing,” said District Attorney Vance. “I commend the members of my Office who raise awareness of these crimes today, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and throughout the year. If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, please call my Office’s Sex Crimes Hotline at 212-335-9373. We will use all of the resources at our disposal to help you.”
Denim Day was sparked by a 1998 Italian Supreme Court decision that overturned a rape conviction on the grounds that the victim was wearing tight jeans. The Court’s ruling suggested that a woman cannot be raped if she is wearing tight jeans because she must have helped remove them. Jeans are now donned worldwide on the third Wednesday of April in solidarity with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Denim Day participants aim to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence and victim blaming in our society.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, observed nationally in April, is dedicated to preventing sexual violence and raising awareness through coordinated events and advocacy. Since the first national observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in 2001, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (“NSVRC”) has provided resources to help individuals and organizations plan activities in their communities during April and throughout the year. Additionally, the NSVRC supports and encourages state coalitions in the development of strategies, initiatives, and customized materials to support local initiatives.
Sex Crimes Unit
Part of the Special Victims Bureau, the Manhattan DA’s Sex Crimes Unit’s experienced, specially trained prosecutors investigate and prosecute cases involving sexual assaults and other related crimes. Last year, 85 percent of sex crimes trials in Manhattan resulted in a conviction, up more than 15 percent since 2012. But the DA’s Office recognizes that ultimately, preventing sex crimes is just as important as prosecuting sex offenders. In order to raise awareness, the DA’s Office conducts presentations on sexual assault at dozens of colleges and high schools across Manhattan throughout the year. Prosecutors and members of the Office’s Community Partnerships Unit discuss the impact of sexual violence, offer resources for victims, and provide tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault.
This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, District Attorney Vance offered the following tips for staying safe and preventing attacks:
- Do not travel alone if you are in a vulnerable state, keeping in mind that sex offenders seek out vulnerable victims, particularly those who are very young, old, disabled, or visibly intoxicated.
- Do not leave a friend alone if he or she is in a vulnerable state.
- If you take a taxi, or put your friend in one, note the license plate and call a friend to tell them where you are and where you are going.
- Be cautious when accepting alcoholic drinks. Be sure you know who is serving you, what they are serving, and how much you are being given.
- When meeting new people, arrange for it to be in a public place.
- If you are responding to an online ad for an apartment, job, or service, bring a friend to the meeting.
- Do not hold doors to your building for strangers, especially if you feel uncomfortable.
In the event that you or someone you know has been attacked, there are certain steps one can take to preserve evidence:
- Notify the police.
- Do not shower.
- Do not wash clothing or bedding.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible. A rape kit can be conducted at a hospital.
- If you believe you have been drugged, a toxicology kit can be administered at a hospital. Do not be afraid to have this test, even if you have used recreational drugs.
Witness Aid Services Unit
The Manhattan DA’s Witness Aid Services Unit (“WASU”) provides a variety of court-related services, social services, and counseling services designed to meet the needs of crime victims, witnesses, and their families. WASU also provides information related to the prosecution of the case, assists victims in understanding the criminal justice system, and provides information regarding crime victims’ rights.
WASU, working collaboratively with prosecutors, assists victims in overcoming the emotional trauma resulting from victimization, and provides advocacy and support throughout the criminal justice process. WASU has a staff of 31 and is comprised of four departments, including Social Services, Counseling, Notification, and a Victim Assistance Center. Spanish speaking staff is available in each of the departments; interpreters for many other languages, including American Sign Language, are also readily available. All services offered by the unit are free of charge.
For the convenience of victims, WASU provides services in the Manhattan DA’s downtown and Northern Manhattan offices, and can be reached at 212-335-9040. Services are also available through the Manhattan Family Justice Center at 80 Centre Street.