Dare to hope: Converse Hope Center calls for community leaders to sign proclamation against sexual assault

Melissa Peterson photo
Maria Walker holds up one of the new signs slated to be placed in bars around Converse County to raise awareness for sexual assault.

By Melissa Peterson melissa@glenrockind.com

Maria Walker has dedicated her time in Converse County to spreading awareness about the nature of sexual assault. When she heard that 30 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, she set her sights on bringing a declarative proclamation to those with political power in Converse County.
The Converse Hope Center (CHC) joins with the many others who say they are done seeing sexual assault swept under the rug and are taking considerable strides to see preventive measures take place.
April is recognized as sexual assault awareness month in the U.S., still, the Hope Center wanted a way for it to be taken more seriously. In Converse and neighboring counties, the Hope Center sees a large number of survivors who are hungry for justice. And often, the main stance taken is what to do after the assault has occurred; they began to ask themselves “what would happen if the communities took a more preventive stance.” 
In the U.S., child sexual abuse is estimated to cost more than $3.5 billion per year. In Converse County, that cost is approximately $1.2 million per year, according to the Converse County Sheriff’s Office.
Seeing the opportunity before them, they drafted a proclamation declaring April as the awareness month for Converse County.
It started by going before the town councils of Glenrock, Rolling Hills and Douglas, as well as the county commissioners. While there, Converse Hope Center Executive Director Maria Walker presented them the proclamation last week in Glenrock, stating that the designated month brings light to the pervasive nature of sexual assault. After, she asked the public leaders to take a more preventative stance against the issue, and stand with the CHC  in solidarity to not tolerate sexual assault.
Walker, along with the Hope Center team, believes that everyone has the right to live in their community free from the threat of sexual assault; especially in smaller towns.
“Where everyone is basically your neighbor, we have an even greater opportunity to see this actually happen,” Walker said.
For a long time, she has been a strong believer in the value of working together to address the challenges and wants to see the proclamation reach outside of Converse County into the neighboring counties, such as Natrona, which was an idea she stressed during her meeting with the town council.
The response they have received so far from the public leaders has been positive as the Hope Center continues to ask the male leaders to step out and take a stand against sexual assault, instead, showing that to be a man means respecting your partner.
“We’re here to help victims, but we would much rather see someone not become a victim,” Walker said.
While working in smaller communities they recognize you need to have community solutions, with everyone working together.
“How can you create community solutions with only one or two voices?” Walker asked.

The proclamation will not be officially signed until April 24, as Walker is still seeking the required signatures. She admits it has been a lot of legwork, but by going before Glenrock last week and Douglas and Rolling Hills in the next few weeks, Walker confirms progress is being made within the communities. 
“Where one county benefits, it benefits the entire state. Sexual assault has no man-made boundaries. Trauma has no boundaries,” she said.
Walker remembers the days when she first started working in this field. Today, she still hears more stories of sexual assault than ever before.
Walker joins her team as they seek to inspire hope in the midst of crisis, while raising awareness and empowering people to speak out and stand against sexual assault.
“A big part of it is to have these conversations, but also to have them in a positive way,” Walker said.
One of the biggest changes they made was in 2016 when they changed the name from the Converse County Coalition Against Domestic Violence to the Converse Hope Center; since many of the survivors speak about the feeling of hopelessness.
When Walker took the position of executive director in 2016, she saw a chance for Converse County to create a proactive story.
With a heavy heart, she is preparing to leave the position at the end of April. She will be joining her husband, Shane Walker,  who is a forest ranger as they are reassigned to Colorado. Before she steps down as director, she wants to make sure the right person comes to take the Hope Center to the next level. More than anything though, she wants to see the proclamation take place and she sees it as her final gift to empower survivors and prevent assaults from happening within the community.
“I can’t think of a better going away present than seeing our community come together to take a stand on sexual assault,” Walker said.


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