GREENWICH, CT — Several state and local elected officials representing towns in lower Fairfield County, along with volunteers and staff members from the Rowan Center, gathered outside of Greenwich Town Hall on Monday morning to highlight Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Monday’s ceremony featured proclamation readings from Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo and Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons, and brief comments from Rowan Center volunteers, and elected officials, including Connecticut Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.

The Rowan Center, located at 1111 Summer St. in Stamford, is the only state-certified sexual assault resource agency for eight towns in lower Fairfield County.

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The center provides free, 24-hour confidential assistance for survivors, or people who know survivors, of sexual violence by providing training, counseling and advocacy services. The center supports Stamford, Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Weston, Westport and Wilton, and offers services in both English and Spanish.

Rowan Center Board Chair Sharon Walker Epps said that 18 percent of teenage girls reported they’ve experienced sexual violence by the time they were 18-years-old.

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“Sexual assault is hard to talk about. It can be really uncomfortable, and many of us really don’t want to believe it happens where we live. We don’t want to believe it can happen to people we love, or to us. But it can and it does. It happened in my family, and my family isn’t alone,” she said, mentioning several recent news headlines from local towns involving sexual assault cases.

Walker Epps noted that 975 of every 1,000 sexual assault perpetrators go free, leaving victims in their wake.

“PTSD, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, suicide attempts and self-harm, lost jobs… This is what happens. We see this every day at the Rowan Center,” Walker Epps said. “This is the legacy of sexual assault, and it lays its burden not only on its victims, but on all of us who live in a society who care about improving the lives of others. As a society we must do better.”

Citing data released in February by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Walker Epps noted that 56 percent of teenage girls are experiencing deep sadness and 30 percent have contemplated suicide, largely due to sexual assault and sexual violence.

“At the Rowan Center, we work everyday to counsel and heal victims, to advocate for them as they navigate hospitals, police stations and courthouses, and to educate everyone in our communities to prevent sexual assault from happening in the first place,” Walker Epps said.

She also noted that human trafficking is another trend that’s being seen in communities throughout the state.

“In Connecticut since 2014, over 1,300 kids have been referred to the Department of Children and Families as possible victims of child sex trafficking; 10-13 year old girls are being targeted in lower Fairfield County. We’re seeing it,” she said.

Bysiewicz thanked the Rowan Center for the work they do.

“We know how important it is to protect our kids, and we also know our vulnerable populations are especially prone to this. Every 68 seconds in the US, someone experiences sexual assault,” she said. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a lot of work to do. We want all of the survivors to know they’re not alone, and there is help available.”

The theme of this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “Drawing Connections: Prevention Demands Equity.”

To that end, Camillo issued a proclamation Monday, and urged residents, organizations and institutions in the town “to build equity and respect within our community and workplace, and take action to prevent sexual violence.”

Camillo said in his proclamation that more than one in four non-Hispanic Black women in the United States were raped in their lifetime; more than four in five American-Indian and Alaskan native women have experienced violence in their lifetime; one in three hispanic women reported unwanted sexual contact in their lifetime; 32.9 percent of adults with intellectual disabilities have experienced sexual violence; and 47 percent of all transgender people have been sexually assaulted in their lives.

Camillo said it’s critical to bring the work of the Rowan Center to the forefront.

“We all know someone who may have been in a situation, and it’s not easy to come forward. But it’s up to all of us to make sure they feel comfortable enough to do that,” Camillo said.

Simmons also thanked the Rowan Center for their work in raising awareness and helping to eliminate sexual assault and violence.

“This is not unique to any community. It’s happening across the board in our state, and it’s unacceptable,” Simmons said. “We have to do better, and I’m inspired by the coalition today who’s working so hard to create a more peaceful world that is devoid of violence.”

Monday’s ceremony also featured brief comments from Westport First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker; state Reps. Lucy Dathan (D-142); Dominique Johnson (D-143); Rachel Khanna (D-149); and Hector Arzeno (D-151).

The elected officials pledged to work together in Hartford to help raise awareness and end sexual assault and violence around the state.

For more on the Rowan Center and events taking place throughout the month of April, visit their website.

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