After hiring a new executive director, Northwest Arkansas Center for Sexual Assault executives are hoping to better include men in the conversation about rape and rape prevention.

Brandon Pettit, who was hired in October 2019 after long-time Executive Director Anne Shelley moved to work as a Research Associate for the UofA, thinks he is uniquely positioned to engage other men.

“One of our visions is seeing a community that there is no sexual assault in – the ending of sexual assault and violence in our community – and we know that 90% of all sexual assaults are perpetrated by men,” Pettit said. “So if we're going to accomplish that vision or we're going to make a real impact in our community, men – young men– have to be at the table.”

Additionally, 1 in every 33 men in the U.S. have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, and 1 out of every 10 rape victims are men, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

Pettit’s background working in victims services, with those struggling with mental health and with young male perpetrators, allows the center to break into an area of sexual assault advocacy and prevention they have not yet been able to work much in, said Justin Kohley, vice president of the center’s board of directors.

“I think we'll be able to work now on the preventative measures in these conversations and then really just engaging men in general on the topic of sexual assault,” Kohley said.

Kohley hopes to continue to destigmatize the conversation around sexual assault and sexual violence, help surviors heal from trauma and advocate for more support.

“It's never very easy hearing these stories, and it's certainly difficult facing the stats in terms of how many women a year are impacted and how many men are impacted by sexual assault and violence,” Kohley said.

While Pettit has spent his first three months in the position working to learn more about community engagement and partners, he said he thinks the staff is now getting to a place where they can begin to emphasize work with young men, as well as data collection.

The center already has programs that engage minority groups, including their Let’s Talk program, which has held events with African American men in Memphis, Arkansas, but hope to broaden their outreach with men in general, Kohley said.

“It's an area that has really lacked in engagement and that has a real opportunity to engage, either because they didn't know about the issue or they didn't know about the severity of the issue,” Kohley said. “It's a very sensitive and kind of difficult thing for some men to grasp and handle.”

While new opportunities to include male survivors and to educate men about prevention are coming, the center is still focused on its overall mission to care about those who have been affected by sexual assault or violence and to help them in whatever stage of the healing process they might be in, Kohley said.

“Our mission is to help people along the journey, regardless of what happened,” Kohley said. “We want to help them toward a better life for themselves and to recover to a state of thriving.”

The Northwest Arkansas Center for Sexual Assault is located at 1670 W. Sunset Ave. in Springdale and is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. Those in need can also call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE.

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