Teaching people how to detect toxic relationships could reduce the number of sexually violent offenses in Rock County.
That is important, Xandi Finn says, because the number of sexual offenses here is 1.5 times higher than the state average.
Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change recently got a $70,000 grant from the state Department of Health Services for sexual violence prevention in Rock County, said Finn, program coordinator for the organization.
The grant will last four years beginning Feb. 1, according to a news release.
Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change plans to partner with the local Sexual Assault Recovery Program to form a Sexual Violence Prevention Team, which will develop programs and educational strategies for sexual violence prevention.
The groups initially will focus on identifying needs and services gaps, Finn said.
She believes better education will teach parents and caregivers how to talk to children about sexual violence before children become victims. It also will help people identify earlier when a partner might be toxic or an abuser, Finn said.
Among the state’s 72 counties, Rock County has the seventh-highest rate of sex offenses, which includes such acts as rape, nonconsensual oral sex, sexual assault, sexual assault with an object, fondling and statutory rape, Finn said.
Preliminary data from the 2018 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows 27% of Rock County high school students have experienced rape, sexual assault or intimate partner violence, which Finn said is “super concerning.”
The data shows 12% of eighth-graders reported that they were forced into sexual activity, Finn said.
The team will have representatives from some or all of these organizations, which wrote letters of support for the grant application: YWCA Rock County, Rock County Public Health Department, UW Extension, Boys and Girls Club of Janesville, Mercyhealth sexual assault nurse examiners, Youth2Youth 4 Change, Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties, Rock County Anti Human Trafficking Task Force, Janesville Access Television, and the Clinton and Janesville school districts.
Finn said she hopes to get all Rock County school districts involved.
The team will analyze Janesville’s sexual harassment policies; housing assistance policies for Janesville, Beloit and several nonprofits; and CrimeStoppers policies for sexual violence prevention, Finn said.
Preventing sexual violence could have positive long-term effects on other issues Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change focuses on, such as substance abuse, Finn said.
People who experience sexual violence are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs than those who do not have those experiences, she said.
Preventing sexual violence also could reduce the number of people who experience trauma.
“Those things don’t just happen on their own,” Finn said. “There is a lot of great programming in Rock County, and we will be making sure people are aware of those (programs) and know how to utilize them.”