Julia Spann’s Remarks at Start By Believing Press Conference

The idea behind the Start by Believing campaign is a simple one. Ordinarily when a friend or family member reports that they’ve been robbed, or were injured in a car accident, we respond with sympathy and support. But too often, victims of sexual assault don’t get that same reaction. Instead, they’re met with doubt and suspicion. With questions about their own behavior leading up to the crime.

We wanted to bring this campaign to Austin because let’s be honest – we need it here. According to information provided to our staff from APD and the Sheriff, only 857 rapes were reported to law enforcement in Travis County last year.

Does anyone here believe that in our entire county, with a population of more than 1.1 million people, only 857 people were sexually assaulted last year? I think if we doubled or tripled that number, we might be getting closer.

The involvement of law enforcement in this campaign has been fantastic, and the fact that they made this a priority in their departments speaks to the commitment and leadership that the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Travis County Constable’s Office, Austin Police Department, and so many other small local forces bring to this issue. We are fortunate to live in a community where the commitment to helping survivors of sexual assault seek justice begins at the very top. Sheriff Hamilton and Chief Acevedo, I thank you for that.

But this campaign isn’t just about law enforcement. It’s aimed at every single one of us. We know that most often, a survivor of sexual assault tells a friend or a family member first, and that person’s reaction has a lot of influence over what the survivor does next. If they’re supportive, then the survivor is much more likely to report the crime.

We live in a country where 97 out of every 100 rapists never serves a day in jail. That is the culture that we’re aiming to change with this campaign. That’s the culture that all of us have the power to change, and it begins with recognizing that the most important thing to say to anyone who tells us they’ve been raped is “I believe you.”

Thanks to a very generous donation from Reagan Advertising, we were able to post Start by Believing billboards in English and Spanish in key locations across the city this month. Those billboards are reaching an average of 25 percent of the Austin market on on a daily basis. Reagan estimates that by the end of our campaign, 77 percent of Austin’s population will have seen the Start by Believing message at least 9 times. That’s incredible.

We also took the Start By Believing message to the campuses of UT, St. Ed’s, Huston Tillotson, Concordia University, and four different ACC locations. You can see some of the photos we collected of the students on those campuses taking the Start By Believing pledge.

And the word spread even further thanks to interest from the media and the efforts of so many other great organizations who were our campaign partners, including the ATC SANE nurses, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, Texas Advocacy Project, Concordia University, and the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at UT.

You know, most rapists are serial offenders. They know that their victims may be reluctant to report their crimes – they RELY on that. Data tells us that rapists attack an average of six times before they’re apprehended. We don’t want one failed response to lead to five more victims in our community. We ask that all of us – law enforcement, victims services organizations, medical personnel, college administration, friends, and family – start by believing whenever anyone says they’ve been sexually assaulted. Thank you so much.

The Start By Believing press conference took place on April 23, 2015 at Travis County Sheriff’s Office

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