In April: Oasis aims to raise public awareness about sexual assault

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, April 2, 2024

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Oasis – Southwest Louisiana’s domestic and sexual violence agency – is gearing up to spread the word.

Each year, the goal of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities across the country on ways to prevent it. The theme of 2024’s SAAM is “Building Connected Communities.” This is something that Oasis has done for years.

Their domestic violence program serves Allen, Calcasieu and Cameron parishes. The sexual assault awareness program also includes Beauregard and Jeff Davis parishes. In these parishes, Oasis has provided support, services and resources to hundreds of victims.

Email newsletter signup

Oasis also works to prevent sexual violence in four other ways: promote social norms that protect against violence, teach skills to prevent sexual violence, provide opportunities to empower and support girls and women, create protective enviroments.

The community plays a key role in creating protective environments, especially for victims in recovery, said Oasis Director Kathy Manuel. The organization often utilizes public spaces to meet with victims.

“There is a stigma to sexual assault, and people don’t always want somebody to know that they’ve been through that (and) they are meeting with an advocate. … Someone doesn’t always want to come to the office to meet with an advocate, but they might meet with them at a local restaurant or a library, some place that maybe they go on a regular basis so that it’s not out of the ordinary for them to go there.”

Additionally, local libraries and health units throughout Southwest Louisiana provide free private rooms for Oasis advocates to meet with survivors.

Oasis also partners with local agencies to maximize resources, she said.

You want to help them get as much resources and assistance as possible to return to that pre-trauma state.”

One of the best ways for citizens to help victims of sexual assault is to be aware of the services that Oasis can provide, she said.

“Someone may disclose something to you, and to be aware of our services and be able to refer them to us is the best thing that someone can do.”

It is also paramount that one be aware that healing for domestic and sexual violence is a life-long healing journey.

SAAM Events

Oasis will begin SAAM with Wear Teal Day today, April 2.  This is the national SAAM Day of Action in which advocates wear the color teal to show support for victims of sexual violence and community members that work to end the violence.

Participating citizens are encouraged to take a picture and post it on social media with the hashtag #tealtuesday.

On two Sundays this month, April 7 and 21, free self-defense classes will be offered to girls and women 12 years and up. The classes will take place at 3 p.m. each day at Indigo Jiu Jitsu Academy, 180 N. Cities Service Hwy., in Sulphur.

Manuel said that spots for the classes are limited. To register, call Oasis at 337-436-4552.

Wednesday, April 24, is Denim Day. Each year for over two decades, people and organizations around the globe participate to visually protest misconceptions regarding sexual violence. The tradition was started following a 1992 Italian Supreme Court ruling that overturned a rape conviction.

Justices decided that the 18 year-old victim’s jeans had been to tight to be removed by the 45-year-old man that raped her, and determined that she must have consented and helped him remove her jeans. The next day, women in the Italian Parliament began the protest by wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim.

“Denim Day was started to show that it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, you don’t deserve to be raped,” Manuel said.

Oasis will close out SAAM with the Survivor Speak Out on April 25. This event is an opportunity for survivors and supporters to gather and stand up against sexual violence together.

Survivors speak out about their experience, what they’ve been through and how they are recovering. She said that is a time for community members to listen, learn and talk to survivors of sexual violence.

“It’s a time to support sexual assault victims in our community.”

The event is open to the public. It is currently scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Lake Charles Event Center Seawall, but is subject to change. Updated information will be posted to Oasis’ Facebook page throughout the month.

Outreach Center Update

Just in time for SAAM, the renovated Oasis Outreach Center is slated to open at the end of the month.

Since Hurricane Laura destroyed Oasis’ outreach center, they have been operating solely out of an administrative office. While they have been able to consistently provide their services, their ability to provide deep advocacy and support has been minimized, Manuel said.

“Not having a shelter to have the survivors right there where we can spend more time with them and give them more advocacy has been rough.”

To ensure victims can receive as much care as they need, Oasis has been coordinating with centers in DeRidder, Franklin and Jennings to find them a place to heal.

“Then I know they are getting the support because they are actually in the shelter.”

The Oasis center is completed aside from inspections and touch-ups.

She said that an open house will be held at the end of the month, and the doors should be open by May 1.