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Runner Raises Sexual Assault Awareness With Race Through South Norwalk

Tom Renner is running Saturday's SoNo Half Marathon to raise funds for The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis and Education in Stamford.
Tom Renner is running Saturday's SoNo Half Marathon to raise funds for The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis and Education in Stamford. Photo Credit: Contributed

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. -- The number smacked me hard: During their four years in college, more than 25 percent of college women will be sexually assaulted, according to a recent report .

As the father of two girls in their late teens, I knew that report and others with similar statistics demanded action. Fortunately, the inaugural SoNo Half Marathon and The Center For Sexual Assault Crisis and Education gave me the opportunity to do so.

On Saturday, I will stand on the starting line in Veterans Park and traverse through Norwalk to support The Center and a young woman I love. She was a former player of mine on various youth sports teams as a young girl, I stayed connected with her family even though I was no longer her coach. Her assault was a gut-punch from which I have yet to recover.

When I learned the SoNo Half organizers, Shannon and James Whipple, offered a fundraising component to the race I approached The Center. I had come to know the agency through my work, and found them committed, hard-working and dedicated. As much as I despise seeking charity donations, I knew this was my moment.

Even just a modicum of research proved me right. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provided statistics on a fact sheet earlier this year:

  • It is estimated that the percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions may be between 20 percent and 25 percent over the course of a college career.
  • Among college women, nine in 10 victims of rape and sexual assault knew their offender.
  • Less than five percent of completed or attempted rapes against college women were reported to law enforcement. However, in two-thirds of the incidents the victim did tell another person, usually a friend, not family or school officials.

Three more details further angered me. Sexual assaults were most likely to occur in September, October and November, on Friday or Saturday nights, and between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m.; most victims of physically forced or incapacitated sexual assault were assaulted by someone they knew (79 percent and 88 percent respectively); and freshmen and sophomores are at greater risk for victimization than juniors and seniors. In the case of the woman I knew, check, check and check.

And then there are these numbers. One of every 10 children is sexually assaulted or abused before the age 18. In 90 percent of the cases, the victim knows their attacker.

Shocking, saddening, disturbing.

The solution is education, which is where The Center comes in. All proceeds through my fundraising support its education efforts. The Center serves the communities of Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Wilton and Weston. During the 2013 - 2014 fiscal year, The Center provided risk reduction education to nearly 20,000 individuals in Lower Fairfield County.

My motivation is to support the young woman I know. It is also to support the girls coming behind her. Perhaps it’s too late to change the culture for current and incoming students at colleges. Maybe by the time the girls now age 12-and-under reach college they can feel safe on a college campus. That is not the case now, and it will not change over the next few years.

We have a chance to help them. Sexual assault is not cancer, autism or diabetes. It is not biological. The only thing that is stopping us from doing something about it is us. We can, and must, do better. If you’d like to help, click here to donate through my fundraising page. Maybe we can’t change the world. We can start, however, by changing our little corner of it.

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