Florida Police Chiefs Launch Campaign to Take on “Rape Culture”
The Tampa Bay Area Chiefs of Police Association decided it was time to confront the pervasive problem of sexual assault, focusing on both police training and public awareness.
Police in Florida have had enough of sexual assaults.
The Tampa Bay Area Chiefs of Police Association launched a two-pronged campaign called Consent Florida earlier this month to tackle the problem. One aspect focuses on training officers to better investigate sexual crimes; the other is a public education initiative addressing what group spokesman Tony Panaccio called a “rape culture.”
“The chiefs were getting together for their campaign this year and they wanted to do some community outreach. Let’s just tell them the truth, that we’re here to help,” recalled Panaccio. “It started to come into, how are we helping? There was a gradual realization, as an association of police chiefs, that they can start to change culture individually.”
Florida, of course, is home to several major colleges, and sexual assault on campus has become a high-profile issue in recent years. The state is also a spring break hub, and though no one is measuring how many college kids make the trek each year, about 26.3 million tourists visited the state in the winter months in 2013, according to data reported by USA Today.
Studies show that about one in six women in the Sunshine State have been raped, according to a fact sheet [PDF] from the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence. That’s about 17 percent or more than 1.2 million as of 2010.
“A lot of folks have been asking us the questions like, ‘why now?’ and it’s actually a difficult question to answer,” Panaccio said. “The yin and yang in public policy is if you want to address a problem, politically, first you have to admit it exists, and it exists on your watch. “
The public outreach aspect of the program will focus on educating young people from middle school to Florida’s largest state-run colleges. The idea is to arm school resource officers—those stationed in schools in several states across the country—with information about sexual assault prevention.
While they won’t necessarily teach classes—think the D.A.R.E. programs of the 1990s—Panaccio said they will use their individual connection with students to discuss these problems. “These resource officers are leaders,” Panaccio said. “We want them to engage these kids in that discussion. To be able to answer questions.”
As an association, the group is well-situated to confront the problem, he noted. While individual police chiefs are usually appointed to their posts and may be subject to political or public pressures, an association can speak independently for its members with a united voice.
“What is one of the primary benefits of association: You can say more and do more because you’re less concerned with politics and policy than you are with the dialogue and the discussion,” Panaccio said. “If you talk to rape victim advocates, they’ll tell you the one thing lacking is a dialogue and discussion in this country.”