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Raising awareness about consent and sexual assault through film

A woman was inspired by what her sister went through, and interviewed sexual assault survivors to share their stories and how they tried to get justice in Iowa.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Using the personal experience of someone close to her's sexual assault, one metro woman was inspired to create a documentary titled "Guilty Until Proven Innocent"

"In 2019 my younger sister had told me that she was going through therapy to deal with repressed memories about being molested by our maternal grandfather," Melissa Dickhaut, the creator of the film, said. 

Dickhaut said the treatment her sister received from family after speaking out was horrible.

"People need to understand why it's important for survivors to come forward at any point," she said. 

Dickhaut hopes anyone who sees her documentary understands: it's okay to speak out about what happened to you and not feel ashamed. 

The film includes stories from three sexual assault survivors and their struggles to get justice in Iowa. 

The filmmaker said her advocacy and bringing awareness to the issue of sexual assault does not stop with this film, but it's the start. 

"What I'd like to see is the civil statute of limitations released, so that women wouldn't have to rely on prosecution to bring their case forward," Dickhaut said.

She is also in talks with two Iowa lawmakers, Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moiens and Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines about bringing forth a study on consent and defining what it means. 

"This would be because Iowa doesn't define consent in code," Dickhaut said.

Guiding the filmmaker in her quest to make a difference is Joyce Short, the founder of Consent Awareness Network

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Getting a study on defining consent in Iowa would be a step in the right direction, according to Short.

"We need the world to understand that consent is a freely given word, knowledgeable and informed agreement," she said.

Dickhaut noted if the lawmakers decided to conduct a study, it would take place after their legislative sessions are done and would be conducted with people from the public giving testimony on why they believe the word consent should or shouldn't be defined. 

Dickhaut has submitted her documentary to Iowa PBS for consideration to be played on their station, and is waiting to hear back.

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