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Wing raises awareness of sexual assault

Jeff Bucholtz, director of We End Violence, gives a presentation on sexual assault awareness at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Mo., Feb. 12, 2015. Airmen received the briefing as part of an effort to raise awareness of sexual assault in the Air Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Crane/Released)

Jeff Bucholtz, director of We End Violence, gives a presentation on sexual assault awareness at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Mo., Feb. 12, 2015. Airmen received the briefing as part of an effort to raise awareness of sexual assault in the Air Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Crane/Released)

Jeff Bucholtz, director of We End Violence, gives a presentation on sexual assault awareness at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Mo., Feb. 12, 2015. Airmen received the briefing as part of an effort to raise awareness of sexual assault in the Air Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Crane/Released)

Jeff Bucholtz, director of We End Violence, gives a presentation on sexual assault awareness at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Mo., Feb. 12, 2015. Airmen received the briefing as part of an effort to raise awareness of sexual assault in the Air Force. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Crane/Released)

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (Rosecrans Air National Guard Base) -- The 139th Airlift Wing Sexual Assault and Response Coordinator (SARC), Maj. Becki Restrepo, will host several initiatives in April for sexual assault awareness month and throughout the year.

One of the initiatives will be a local version of Project Unbreakable, a Tumblr project started in 2012 by Grace Brown, then a freshman at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, designed to help give power back to survivors of sexual assault through the words of their attackers.

Photos of National Guard Airmen survivors holding a sign with the words that were spoken to them by their assailant will be on display.  Restrepo said this has proven to be a safe and healing initiative for the victims and highlights how close to home the issue of sexual assault hits, an issue that is often invisible to most.

"This is happening here," said Restrepo, "These are our brothers and sisters you are sitting next to and we really need to watch our language, what we do, how we talk to each other, how we treat each other...because you just don't know when a survivor is sitting next to you."

No faces will be shown in the photos.

Restrepo will also be working with Jeff Bucholtz, director of We End Violence, an organization out of San Diego, Calif., in April and throughout the year to speak directly with Airmen about the impact sexual assault has on an organization and society as a whole.  We End Violence aims to help society make our culture a safer place for survivors of violence to share their stories and heal.

The Wing's inaugural Denim Down Day will be April 23, 2015, a day that base will be authorized to wear jeans to promote awareness and encourage a safe dialogue.

According to Healing Space, a sexual violence resource center in New Jersey, "Denim Day and wearing jeans in April became an international symbol of protest of harmful attitudes about sexual assault after an Italian Supreme Court decision overturned a sexual assault conviction because the survivor wore tight jeans.  The justices reasoned that the survivor must have helped her attacker remove her jeans, implying her consent."

Restrepo also hopes to bring Erin Merryn, an author and activist, to the base to speak in April.  Merryn is a survivor of childhood sexual violence and is the driving force behind Erin's Law which requires sexual assault prevention education in schools.

"We need dignity and respect for all -- and that includes combating sexual harassment and assault," said U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James during a congressional panel last year.