NEW BEDFORD — The impact sexual assault can have on a victim and their families has become more prevalent in the past few years. Movements across the country have seen scores of men and women stand up against all forms of sexual harassment or violence, in both social and professional settings.

The Ashley Room at City Hall was filled with women and girls affiliated with the Women's Center today, sporting signs with messages such as "Speak Up! Be Heard!," "Time's Up" and "#MeToo."

Mayor Jon Mitchell joined the group to issue a proclamation designating the month of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the city. During the month of April, sexual assault programs across the state and the nation will intensify their efforts to promote public awareness of sexual assault issues, stress involvement in reducing sexual assault and the importance of increasing community support for agencies.

Mitchell detailed a list of troubling statistics surrounding sexual assault in America to the crowd, saying “It is therefore time for us to build a future for our children of communities that is free from sexual violence, a world where people never have to declare 'Me Too' again.”

“Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Every eight minutes, that victim is a child. More than 70 percent of rape victims know their attacker. Only six out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison,” Mitchell continued. “One out of every 10 rape victims are male, so it's not a gender-specific discussion that we're having here today. Thirty-three percent of women who are raped contemplate suicide. Thirteen percent of women who are raped actually attempt suicide. Within the LGBTQ community, transgender people and bisexual women face the most alarming rates of sexual violence.”

Executive Director of the Women's Center Pam MacLeod-Lima spoke at the proclamation. On top of addressing the importance of raising the awareness of sexual assault and violence, she also explained the effects it has on a local level.

During the past fiscal year in New Bedford, the Women's Center has provided 339 clients with 1,695 hours of individual counseling for sexual assault. MacLeod-Lima says that 112 clients attended 1,033 hours of group support for survivors, and that the 24-hour hotline at the Women's Center received 2,600 calls for domestic violence and sexual assault.

"Yes, this is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but there is no better year and no better time to show support for survivors of sexual violence. It is the most invasive and intimate violence against another person,” Macleod-Lima said. "Really, 2017 and 2018 can really be called the 'Year of Women,' as an unprecedented number of women came forward to end sexual violence by telling their own personal stories, stories they may not have told in many years in some instances."

If you are a victim of sexual assault or violence, or know somebody who is, the Women's Center encourages you to call the 24-hour hotline at (508) 999-6636. For more information, call (508) 996-3343 or visit www.thewomenscentersc.com.