Consent Florida: New campaign will combat sexual assault

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BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - The numbers are staggering. One in every six women has experienced sexual assault. Meanwhile, only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators spends a single day behind bars. Now local law enforcement says it's time to change those statistics.

"It's horrific," said Bradenton Chief of Police Melanie Bevan, referring to sexual assault. "The behavior that we're seeing is horrific, but we're a nation that shouldn't stand for this."

On Thursday, Chief Bevan addressed the issue and announced a new initiative called Consent Florida  to a crowd of fellow officers.

"We're trying to send a clear message out there that no means no," said Bevan. 

The initiative has two main branches. One focuses on public outreach, educating students in high school and college about consent. The other includes training officers in how to handle victims of assault.

"If they come to us, we will lend an ear and we will listen," said Bevan. "That's part of the training that we're looking at."

Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center's Jessica Hays says it is encouraging to see law enforcement taking steps to understand where victims are coming from and how to best help them.

"It's definitely inspiring and encouraging to see a shift away from putting the accountability on the victim to prove that it was not consensual, but really putting accountability on the perpetrator," said Hays. 

Plus, Hays says this may encourage victims to come forward.

"If someone feels like they're going to be heard or they're going to be acknowledged the first time that they share their experience," said Hays, "I do think it will help them to feel more comfortable in coming forward and we might see the numbers of those who report go up a little bit."