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Advocates for sexual assault victims hail VAWA focus on prevention

DES MOINES — Iowans who are advocates for victims of sexual assault say they’re pleased the re-authorized Violence Against Women Act includes money for prevention efforts as well as services for victims. Iowa

Senator Joni Ernst hosted an event Thursday to hear from Iowans who work with sexual assault survivors.

“We have actually increased the authorization that will be going to these specific programs that address prevention,” Ernst said.

The updated Violence Against Women Act provides new housing protections for victims as well as new investment in culturally-specific programs. Tiahni Carrasco is a sexual assault prevention specialist with Amani Community Services, working with black middle school students in Waterloo.

“It’s important for survivors, but it’s also important that we stop it before it’s happening,” she said. “That middle school age is a primary target for sexual assaults happening.”

Mira Yusef is executive director of Monsoon, an organization with offices in Des Moines and Iowa City that works to end human trafficking and violence against Asians and Pacific Islanders.

“Prevention is so crucial,” she said. “Man and boys who mostly are the perpetrators, the harm-doers of sexual violence…How do we prevent that?…How can we then extend that to the elementary school age, to the middle school, to have the discussion about healthy relationships?”

Kellie Markey, the founder of Dorothy’s House — a residential home for victims of human trafficking, said pornography is distorting what young people, in particular, view as a healthy behavior.

“It literally changes the way people, and children especially, view what sexual relationships are supposed to look like and what’s o.k. to do in those environments,” she said. “Every child in our commuity is presented and pushed porn by the time they’re in fifth grade, at the latest, and it’s starting create trends that we see in the normalization of these behaviors against people that are going to be a bigger and bigger problem.”

Markey was among more than a dozen people Senator Ernst invited to a roundtable discussion of the Violence Against Women Act. A month ago, President Biden approved a bipartisan plan to reauthorize the law for five more years.



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