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Silent Sexual Assault Survivors Highlighted In New Iowa Project

Courtesy Latinas Unidas Por Un Nuevo Amanecer
LUNA volunteers paint the wooden silhouettes teal to represent Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. Mary Chinchilla, LUNA's sexual assault program director, made the cut-outs with her husband's help. "My husband was very gracious to create them for me. And they're life-sized silhouettes," Chinchilla added.

A statewide group is bringing attention to Latinx survivors of sexual assault. The project is meant to highlight people in Iowa's Latino community who may remain silent about their experiences.

Latinas Unidas Por Un Nuevo Amanecer (LUNA) is a culturally-specific organization for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking.

As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the organization set up life-sized, wooden silhouettes around central Iowa to represent survivors who may have remained silent about their experience with sexual assault.

The project is entitled Rompiendo el silencio al asulto sexual, which translates to ‘breaking the silence to sexual assault.’ Mary Chinchilla, the sexual assault program director, launched the project to bring awareness to silent survivors specifically in the Latino community.

"Our Latinx community has a lot of barriers," Chinchilla said. She explained deportation is a very real fear for some. "Reporting it or even thinking about reporting, it has been a huge barrier, that fear of what's going to happen with my family, what's going to happen to me. And so that's where this project was born."

Courtesy Latinas Unidas Por Un Nuevo Amanecer
Chinchilla wants the silhouettes to remind others to support sexual assault survivors in their communities. "Creating that awareness in our community, of support, of not judging. I think it's very important," she said.

The silhouettes, painted teal, are meant to be inclusive of all survivors, Chinchilla explained. That includes men, women and children from all backgrounds, nationalities and faiths.

LUNA placed them in front of stores that are see heavy traffic in the Latino community. They were also placed in front of a Des Moines police station, and other locations.

"When I presented this project to the stores, to the police station, to the other offices, once I mentioned what it was for they were like, 'Let's do it. Yes.' So them partnering with us, it's huge," Chinchilla said. "It's huge, because this is not just LUNA's project. This is our Latinx project." She motioned to all the space around her, referring to the entire central Iowa area.

When people see the wooden cut-outs, Chinchilla encouraged them to take a photo and post to social media to show their support of survivors in the community with the hashtag #notecallescuentalo. It translates to "don't stay silent, speak up."

"It's to create awareness that we still have those victims in the shadows, and to encourage them to come forward, to let them know that they are not alone, that we are here, that we see them," Chinchilla said.

In 2019, the forcible rape rate in Iowa was 36.9 per every 100,000 inhabitants, but that number does not include those survivors who did not disclose their experiences. It also does not include survivors of other forms of sexual assault. It is most common for survivors to know their aggressors.

"Sometimes we see sexual assault as a taboo, as a 'we don't talk about this,' you know? And it's something that is necessary to talk about. It's important to to encourage the Latinx community to support our survivors without judging and giving them those tools," Chinchilla said.

LUNA will host awareness events for the rest of the month, focusing on "micro-communities," like faith-based groups, LGBTQ people and young people.

If you or someone you know is in need of resources or support:
Contact LUNA at 515-271-5060 (Spanish and English)
The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines
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