Overall crime may be down in Williamsburg, but a new study focusing on sexual violence indicated that 48 percent neighborhood residents surveyed in focused groups have experienced unwanted sexual advances after the age of 15, and 34 percent have before the age of 15.
In early 2009, The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, along with a coalition of local service providers, rape crisis advocates, educators and activists, began developing a survey, known as Project Envision, to determine how prevalent sexual violence is in Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, and the South Bronx.
This data came from discussions that occurred over the past two years among community stakeholders interested in demonstrating and reducing the prevalence of sexual violence in New York City.
“In the first phase of the project, the Alliance conducted a community readiness assessment, with the emphasis on primary prevention, stopping sexual violence before it occurs, in contrast to intervention, serving the victims of sexual violence,” said Laura Fidler, an NYC AASA staff member who coordinated the survey.
In Williamsburg, 44 percent of survey respondents thought that sexual violence is a problem in the neighborhood, while 33 percent said it was not, despite 62 percent of respondents indicating that they knew someone who experienced sexual violence.When asked what are the three main causes of sexual violence, 51 percent said alcohol and drug abuse, while 30 percent listed gender inequality and 30 percent noted unhealthy relationships.
According to The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, sexual violence is defined as any completed or attempted sexual act against a person’s will and these actions can range from unwanted sexual comments and harassment to rape.
“This is not just rape that makes it to the 6 o’clock news but a continuum of acts from people known to you, unwanted sexual comments or touching.It’s any completed or attempted act,” said Fidler.
Focus group participants have already indicated a number of strategies including, defining what is ok and not ok in relationships and dating, training educators about sexual violence, and promoting sex education in public schools, while survey respondents taken from street assessments noted that working with male youth as a priority.
According to Fidler, the coalition’s next steps will be to share their findings with community members and work with local community-based organizations such as Los Sures, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, and El Puente, that were identified as able to develop sexual violence prevention strategies.
“We want to take our findings and incorporate them into a primary prevention project, while getting feedback from community members regarding the findings,” said Fidler.“We’re hoping to meet with city council members representing the neighborhood.”