Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2018

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Public Safety:

Witness a crime? Do the right thing by sending a text

It’s almost too horrible to comprehend: bystanders videotaping nearby assaults just for fun. Or for future posting online.

But officials at the nonprofit Rape Crisis Center say recent cases have proved that many people are more likely to hop on YouTube rather than dial 911.

“It’s almost as if people have forgotten because people are so used to that instant texting or social media,” said Hannah Brook, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center. “They’ve forgotten that sometimes you have to call 911 to solve the problem.”

Enter the Engaged Bystander program, a collaboration between the Crisis Call Center in Reno and UNR that urges people to text for help when someone is in crisis.

Posters advertising the campaign will soon land in Las Vegas, Brook said. When people from Southern Nevada text for help, the Crisis Call Center will refer people to the Rape Crisis Center.

Brook said she hopes the campaign reminds people they have a moral obligation to do the right thing when witnessing violence or other criminal activity. She pointed to video of sexual assaults of women in California as one recent example.

“I think people are always uncomfortable that they’re going to report something wrong, and they don’t want to be embarrassed,” she said. “I think the Sandusky case is something all of us can learn from.”

In June, a jury convicted former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of 45 counts of child sex abuse involving boys. The scandal continues to rock the university community, where some school officials were accused of turning a blind eye to the abuse.

“Unfortunately, we have gotten to that point where people are assuming someone else is taking care of the issue and, in reality, they are not,” Brook said.

The text-messaging campaign, however, is not limited to sexual assaults. Anyone who’s in crisis or sees someone in trouble can text “LISTEN” to 839863 to receive help 24 hours a day. All texts are confidential.

Officials also are encouraging community members to text “ENGAGE” to 839863 to learn how to be an agent of change through a series of text messages.

Brook said the Rape Crisis Center hopes to hang the campaign posters around the College of Southern Nevada, UNLV and possibly the Las Vegas Strip, where tourists often fall prey to a false sense of security.

Last year, the Rape Crisis Center received about 6,000 calls to its hotline and helped 421 sexual assault victims in the hospital, Brook said.

After a slight increase last year, sexual assaults are down in Las Vegas by about 13 percent, according to Metro Police’s crime data through July 28.

“It’s such a violation of someone’s being,” Brook said of the crime. “The fact that Third World countries and warlords use it against people as a war crime — that says something about how damaging it is to a human being.”

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