Ames Police ‘Start by Believing’ to Improve Sexual Assault Reports

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AMES, Iowa -- The Ames Police Department and Iowa State University want to raise awareness on sexual assault reports and the obstacles a victim faces when deciding whether to come forward or not.

They say it all "Starts by Believing," and that's the slogan of a national campaign the Ames Police Department was inspired by during a training conference last year. The campaign's message is simple and officers say it's crucial: Assume a victim of sexual assault is telling the truth.

"One thing we have to remember is that rape is one of the most - it is the most under-reported crime that we have," said Ames Police Commander Jason Tuttle. "So we know that there are many more rapes that go unreported because victims don't know if their name is going to be drug through the mud. If people aren't going to believe them, they're going to be chastised for the decisions they've made. When we should be, our response to them should be, 'We believe you. We want to help you heal.'"

Ames police and ISU are partnering with a variety of local resource organizations to get the campaign's message out to Story County this month. Groups like the Story County Sheriff’s Office, Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support (ACCESS), Mary Greeley Medical Center, Story Medical Center, the Thielen Student Health Center and the Story County Attorney’s Office are involved with the campaign.

"A simple message like this is sometimes the easiest way to wrap your head around a complex issue - like sexual assault," said Officer Eric Snyder. "If somebody knows that they're going to be believed when they come forward, they're more likely to come forward. And that's really what they need to do, to start the healing process. They need to come forward and tell somebody. There's a ton of resources in the community that can help somebody that's been sexually assaulted. But a lot of times, people bottle it up and just live with it rather than telling somebody, because they're afraid that they won't be believed. So a simple message like, 'Start by Believing," when somebody tells you they've been sexually assaulted, is a great way to start and get people comfortable with coming forward and getting those services."

The campaign includes signage and shirts with powerful messaging that challenges the reader to compare how they treat victims of other tragedies to victims of sexual assault. The signs are displayed on officer squad cars, and officers are hosting events around Ames this month to get the messaging out further. Officer Snyder says at each event he's been to so far, the campaign has shown success, with at least one victim - or a person who knows a victim - coming forward to authorities.