Orange scarves were wrapped around the necks from several women with YWCA of Harrisburg Tuesday morning. The bright hue represented the color of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, honored through the month of April.
Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson led the first public press conference with the city's Sexual Assault Task Force since its formation last December. Tina Nixon with the YWCA of Harrisburg, Jennifer Storm with Dauphin County Victim Services, and Harrisburg Police Captain Annette Oates stood beside Thompson as she urged residents to talk about sexual abuse.
"Unfortunately children as young as two or three years old must be a part of this frank conversation," Thompson said.
Most people remember the violent abduction and sexual assault of a HACC student last December. The heinous actions of Clarence Shaffer, along with numerous other reported sexual assaults that first week of December, prompted Mayor Thompson to form the aforementioned task force.
In 2012, Harrisburg police reported 56 rapes, 5 attempted rapes and 106 sexual assaults. Police did acknowledge that a handful were either unfounded or cleared. Nonetheless, advocates maintain that one rape or sexual assault is one too many.
Jennifer Storm urged parents and caretakers to begin the difficult conversation with kids of all ages as soon as possible. Storm said start small with this daunting task, and keep the talks age-appropriate. She mentioned she spoke with her eight year-old niece, her 16 year-old niece and a nail technician at a local salon to spread the word.
"That's where change happens," said Storm. "That's where the conversations need to start. So it's those little steps that we can do each and every day that can really create awareness about this issue."
Instead of orange, Storm was dressed in teal. She explained teal represents Sexual Violence Survivors, also honored this month. Storm wanted people to know there are survivors not just in Harrisburg, but throughout Dauphin County.
Dauphin County reported 148 adult and 569 children survivors of sexual abuse.
"It's everyone's responsibility to talk often, talk early, talk about sexual violence," said Storm. "You can be a part of the solution."
abc27's Dave Marcheskie, Val Pritchett and Megan Healey will participate in a media roundtable discussion with the task force later this month. The discussion will center around ways to better inform the public about this sensitive topic.