Local organizations responding to the national issue of sexual a - ABC FOX Montana Local News, Weather, Sports KTMF | KWYB

Local organizations responding to the national issue of sexual assault

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MISSOULA -

Matt Lauer, one of the most recognizable personalities on television, is fired after a complaint of inappropriate sexual behavior.

NBC officials said that it was the first complaint against Lauer, but they were presented with "reason to believe" this may not have been an isolated incident.  

Lauer was part of NBC News for over 20 years. 

This is just the latest in a string of sexual misconduct allegations in the national spotlight.

So the question is… how are local organizations responding to this national issue?

One group, Missoula Relationship Violence Services, is an organization that provides direct services to victims of sexual or domestic violence. 

The Department Manager said that because victims are stepping forward to share their stories there has been a shift in the way we talk about sexual misconduct as a community. 

Shantelle Gaynor of Missoula's Relationship Violence Services said that the number of people who have been sexually assaulted in the Missoula community is staggering.

"If we were to statistically look at the number of women and men who have been sexually assaulted in missoula county it would fill up grizzly stadium," said Shantelle.

Shantelle said that while not all of these assaults are reported, the recent high profile allegations making headlines along with social media movements are empowering victims to speak up.

"When it's your solo voice it is really chilling to think you may not be believed, but when you realize that you are not the only one and that a lot of people have experienced what you have experienced it becomes easier to talk about. And so it many ways this is a watershed moment where people are finally able to talk about what has been happening behind closed doors for a long time," said Shantelle.

In addition to empowering victims to speak up, Relationship Violence Services in partnership with the Make Your Move Coalition is working on ways to prevent sexual assault from happening in the Missoula community.

Brenna Merrill, Outreach Specialist at Relationship Violence Services said that they recently started a new make consent explicit campaign.

The goal is to help make consent feel tangible and easy.

They have also started bar workshops in response to a survey conducted with Missoula residents on how many people experienced sexual violence at bars. 

"When we narrowed it down to looking specifically at sexual violence, which is unwanted comments and unwanted touch. 69 percent of people have experienced that at least once for comments and 64 percent for unwanted touch," said Merrill.

Brenna said that because this was such an overwhelming number, they are working with local bartenders on ways they can intervene.

"It is really our job, regardless of peoples’ intoxication levels, which can impair their judgment, that we are looking out for them," said a bartender at Rhino.

Shantelle said that it is important for people to look out and be gentle with one another to help make a concrete change.

"This isn't new. What is new is how much we are talking about it," said Shantelle.

Shantelle hopes this movement will make a long lasting change especially when it comes to people feeling safe in public, at work, and in their communities. 

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