TAMPA — Local police departments are taking on rape culture.
The Tampa Bay Area Chiefs of Police Association announced a new public awareness and training campaign Thursday called Consent Florida that aims to put a dent in some troubling statistics on sexual assault.
Among them: one in six women in Florida have been raped at some point in their lives, just 18 percent of rapes in America are reported, and only six of every 1,000 rapists see the inside of a jail cell.
"Our strategy will be to engage the key enabler of sexual assault in America — rape culture and a weak definition and perception of the concept of consent," Bradenton police Chief Melanie Bevan said at a news conference at the TPepin's Hospitality Centre. "We've tried 'no means no' and it hasn't produced the results we are after, so we're going to lend our badges and our voices to the problem in a way that we hope will make an indelible impression on everyone."
The campaign and its website, consentflorida.org, will focus in large part on educating the public and students in middle school, high school and college.
The messages are familiar. Rape is not caused by alcohol, revealing clothing or "talking back," Bevan said. When it happens, victims need to come forward so they can get help and their attacker can be prosecuted.
"Rape is caused by rapists who are empowered by a culture that muddies the concept of consent and uses shame and silence to fuel its punishing fire," she said.
The other focus of the campaign is to make sure officers are well-trained to handle delicate investigations.
"Training that helps our officers understand that after somebody has been victimized, it's not that easy to talk about it," she said. "It's not that easy to answer those simple yes or no questions, and it may take some extra effort and some extra time to probe deeper."
Programs and materials for schools and for officer training are still in development.
Fundraisers and grants will help pay for the effort. A fundraising gala is scheduled for Sept. 10 at TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach.
Bevan pointed to a program in Clearwater as an example of what can be done.
Clearwater police received a grant from the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence to train officers and dispatchers how to best interact with assault victims, Chief Dan Slaughter said.
"It's going to make sure they have the knowledge to put us in the best position to help a victim and prosecute a case, as well," Slaughter said.
Bevan paused when asked how progress will be gauged.
"Some might say that progress means we'll see a spike in reported crimes," she said. "You'd have to question whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. I think the more people who are more willing to come forward and tell us what happens, that's progress.
Contact Tony Marrero at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.