Metro agencies hoping to improve public response to sexual assault

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Multiple groups across the metro are focusing on improving the public response to sexual assault.

The 'Start By Believing' campaign is hoping to show victims of sexual violence that there is help.

“I kept it quiet for almost four years; I didn't tell anybody,” said Sarah Romero.

Romero said after she was sexually assaulted she kept to herself fearing she wouldn't be believed.

“Since I didn't feel like I reported it in a timely manner, in the sense that I didn't report it within a certain time frame -- like 24 or 48 hours -- I kind of felt like maybe it's too late now,” added Romero.

Today the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA), along with St. Luke’s hospital, and numerous local law enforcement agencies, launched a unique public awareness campaign across the metro called 'Start By Believing'.

“What we hope is that by showing we're behind the start by believing campaign, that other people who hear about it and see it will then be receptive to people who are victims of sexual assaults,” said Michael Daniels, the Chief of Merriam police and president of the Metro Chiefs and Sheriffs Association.

Chief Daniels said sexual assault is an underreported crime.

“Many times survivors will reach out first to a friend or family member, as opposed to reaching out to law enforcement immediately, so it's important for each of us to know how to respond positively,” said Jessie Hogan, the Director of Advocacy with MOCSA.

Hogan said positive responses start with believing, and letting victims know what happened is not their fault.

“People are afraid that they're not going to be believed, and they're not going to be supported,” Hogan added.

Romero says this campaign, and knowing you have an ally, might allow victims to get the help and support they deserve.

“I think it's definitely a good way to begin building trust, to allow people to feel more comfortable coming forward, instead of feeling as though they have to hide, be ashamed, or afraid,” Romero said. “Too many times you just feel completely alone in the situation, so knowing that you'll have somebody there who would at least be open to listening to your situation and not automatically blame you. I think is really important.”

This month, law enforcement will display a decal on their squad cars, and participating agencies will place posters and brochures in their offices to show support.

You’ll also start seeing billboards around town with the campaign message.

MOCSA has a 24-hour crisis line at (816) 531-0233.

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