Houston & Peach

Houston agency to put focus on rape prevention

WARNER ROBINS — For years Hodac has assisted victims of rape, but now the community service agency is making its most concerted effort yet to keep women from becoming victims.

Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Hodac has partnered with the Houston County school system and Fort Valley State University to provide education programs aimed at preventing rape.

Called "Safe Dates," the program will target girls and boys in middle school, said Nicole Poss, Hodac's intervention coordinator.

"We are hoping for a huge difference," Poss said. "Primary prevention is the key to this grant. Getting to people before they are violent is the point, especially with juveniles."

The program will begin as soon as school starts next week in Houston County. It will include participation in two national events scheduled in April — Jeans for Justice and Take Back the Night.

Jeans for Justice grew from outrage about a ruling by a judge in Italy, who declared that an alleged rape victim could not have been raped because her jeans were too tight to be removed without her cooperation. Female attorneys in Italy then started wearing jeans to court in protest. During the event in April, everyone will be asked to wear jeans on that day.

Take Back the Night features a candlelight vigil geared toward college students.

The Safe Dates program aims to educate students about the risks of date rape. A key, Poss said, is urging students to stand up against violence of any kind, whether it involves sexual assault or not.

"Violence is never OK," she said in describing the message to students. "Think before you act. Treat each other as you would like to be treated, and stand up for not being violent. Say to your friends it's not OK to do that."

Warner Robins Police Sgt. Karen Stokes, who investigates rape cases, said 16 rapes have been reported in the city this year. In 2006, 29 were reported. She noted that the majority of rapes are never reported.

Stokes said Hodac's prevention program is needed. "I think it will make a lot of difference," the police investigator said.

Alcohol is one of the most common factors Stokes sees in teen date rape cases, she said. Girls become intoxicated and boys often feel that it's not rape to take advantage of that, she said. "A lot of the assault cases we work are along those lines," the detective said.

Both Stokes and Poss said that one of the most important actions girls can take to protect themselves is to go on group dates with friends that they trust.

The Safe Dates program is also available for churches or any other group that requests it, Poss said.

Although Hodac has done rape prevention work in the past, Poss said, the new grant will create its most extensive prevention program yet. The grant will fund the program for four years.