It's every area resident's duty to help end sexual assault and domestic violence.

Those words originated from Eddie Lee Herndon, president of the United Way of Fort Smith Area, who is one of many individuals promoting the third annual Rising in the River Valley Rally. The rally is an awareness event for the community that will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday on the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith campus near the Baldor Building.

"This rally is a fun, festival-type event for people that is centered around very serious topics," Herndon said. "The purpose of this event is to promote the prevention and awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault in our area. We hope to bring awareness and empower survivors, and we hope to let those survivors know that they can take steps toward recovery.

"Really, this rally is a way for people in the community to be vigilant — to have eyes and ears for each other in the community," he added. "It's upon us as fathers, husbands, children and citizens to make a stand — to say, 'We're not going to accept it anymore.'"

The rally will include a free, light lunch with hot dogs and chips, as well as cotton candy, information booths, the annual rally dance, a march around campus, presentations and more, Herndon said.

"We'll have several grand marshals showing their support for the event," said Allison Davis, executive director for the Fort Smith Crisis Intervention Center. The new Fort Smith Police Department motorcycle unit "will lead the march around the campus, and we'll also have the Sebastian County Sheriff's Office there."

Various information booths will be on hand to help educate the public on the numerous services offered in the Fort Smith area, she said.

"It will be a great combination of community leaders and community members coming together on this issue," said Davis, whose agency helped about 500 individuals in 2017 and is one of numerous United Way community partners. "The booths will be from the Crisis Intervention Center, law enforcement offices, the Boys and Girls Club, the Girls Shelter and more. It's a great, diversified list, with young, old and every kind of group in the community involved."

The Southside High School drum corp and cheerleaders will be in attendance, as will various law enforcement officials and other members of the community, Herndon said.

"Dr. Paul Beran from UAFS will give the welcome, and Sarah Rabb from West-Ark Church of Christ will be there," Herndon said. "Allison Davis will speak on the issue at a local level."

Monie Johnson, executive director for the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault, will serve as the keynote speaker for the event, which is expected to draw about 500 attendees, Davis said.

"We hope the river valley are going to come together and say, 'This abuse isn't OK for our community,'" she said of the rally. "We want people to know that victims and survivors don't have to go through it alone. They have people on their side who support them. We hope to convey that to them.

"Maybe those at the rally aren't a victim, but they know of someone who is a victim," Davis added. "One in three women in their lifetime will suffer some type of violence, and that is just what is reported. We may not know the abuse that isn't reported."

Most people know a relative, friend, co-worker or neighbor who has been abused, she said.

"It's important that we as a community come together, stand together and say, 'This isn't OK,'" Davis said.

Jennifer Holland, Title IX deputy coordinator for students at UAFS, said she anticipates the event to interest many area residents and visitors alike.

"This really is a rally to raise awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence," she said. "We're using Valentine's Day as a way to promote healthy relationships.

"And this isn't a sad event; we have fun music, we have great speakers, and we have great food prepared by some of our on-campus organizations," Holland added. "The more we can give people a voice and let them know that their story matters, the easier it is for people to come forward and say, 'Me too.' It will be easier for them to stand up for people they know who are in a situation or relationship that isn't healthy."

Herndon said he appreciated the national #MeToo movement, adding that the cause is something he personally and professionally has championed for years.

"Thanks to our Crisis Intervention Center and our local United Way, we have been shouting to the rooftops about this situation for a long time," he said. "Half of the assaults on women occur before they reach the age of 18; those are national statistics.

"And if you look at the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault, you can see that Arkansas had 2,143 rapes and 12,000 assaults last year," Herndon added. "In Sebastian County, there were 75 rapes in 2015. This just isn't acceptable."

Davis agreed.

"The #MeToo movement has opened the door," she said. "Abuse can only thrive in silence. When we get together and talk about it, that is when we shed light on this.

"People are starting to talk about it," Davis added. "You know, #MeToo just doesn't happen in Hollywood or at Michigan State with Larry Nassar. It happens in Fort Smith, too, and I'm so happy that people don't sweep it under the rug here."