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New task force aims to raise awareness of sexual violence

A resident has formed a task force in cooperation with several local nonprofit organizations in an effort to increase awareness of sexual violence and advocate for a safer environment for women in Ashland.

The task force — called Keeping Ashland Women Safe (KAWS) — will serve as a platform to advocate, educate and empower those who experience sexual violence, according to its founder, Alaya Ketani.

“There’s a prevailing idea that Ashland is safe,” said Ketani, who identified herself as a “career social worker” and now practices hypnotherapy privately.

“There has always been some violence against women. … But there’s this bubble that people are living in that Ashland is safe, and they want to keep believing that,” she said. “It is time to pierce this bubble and increase awareness so that women can be safe and empowered,” she added.

The task force is hosting its first event on Wednesday, May 16, in collaboration with the Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), Community Works, Ashland Police Department and the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission, Ketani said.

“It’s going to be an informative and eye-opening event,” she said.

The discussion will feature presentations from nonprofit representatives and Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara about the available resources for those in need.

The task force will also serve as a platform to validate the experiences of local victims and survivors and help them brainstorm safety plans, the organizer said.

“The event is to increase awareness of the reality in town,” Ketani said. “We are not trying to alarm anyone — this is a proactive effort. ... We are trying to advocate for safe environment for women.”

Susan Moen, the executive director of Jackson County SART, said it’s important for sexual violence survivors to be able to talk about their experiences. She hoped the event will spark a conversation in the community about sexual violence and the resources available to survivors.

“(SART) will be the resources partner for the task force,” Moen said. “We hope to do everything we can to support the cause of the task force.”

SART provides support to victims through free examination, support groups and help connecting survivors with different services such as counseling. It also teaches prevention programs at county schools and local business to help increase general awareness, Moen said.

The task force was inspired by an incident that happened at The Loft, a restaurant on the Ashland Plaza, in December 2017, Ketani said. According to news reports and the restaurant owner’s Facebook post, an assailant groped a female employee, then punched another employee before escaping the scene.

Police identified the man, but no charges were filed, according to Ashland Police.

As Ketani shared the post on her account, she started receiving messages from women recounting their own experiences in town.

“Women began to private message me about their experiences of being raped and threatened with assault at various times,” said Ketani, co-chair of the nonprofit group Jackson County Council Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

She urged them to report those incidents, she said.

The city of Ashland has a reporting program in place to empower and encourage survivors to come forward, O’Meara said. The program, called You Have Options, allows survivors to report at their own pace and “gives the power back to them” and has resulted in more reports as survivors are more likely to enter such a process.

He said the discussion with KAWS is a good opportunity to remind community members of the program.

“This is a new team that will help spread the word on the programs we have already had in place in the city,” O’Meara said.

The task force’s organizer said that a partnership with Ashland Police is essential to the organization in its mission to create a safe culture for women. Its goal, she said, is to establish itself as a nonprofit group.

“We will keep discussions open and ongoing as allies and the steps will evolve as we go,” she said.

Ketani said the discussion starts at 6:30 p.m. May 16 at the Ashland Library Gresham Room.

—Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.