Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Help for Sex Crime Victims

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Help for Sex Crime Victims

Article excerpt

WAYCROSS -- South Georgia victims of sex crimes can find solace and 24-hour support at a small one-story house in Waycross.

The Satilla Rape Crisis Program based in Waycross opened its crisis center Aug. 1 as part of its expanding services to help victims of rape, incest, child molestation and other sex crimes.

"We are not the rape capital of South Georgia. Our community is working together to address the issue, whereas many others nationwide have not been able to do so," said Terry Anderson, program director.

At the end of the month, the Satilla program will join the Rape Abuse Incest Network, a nationwide non-profit organization that provides support and other assistance to sexual assault victims, authorities said.

"Sexual assault victims for years felt they were alone. Our main goal is to let them know that they are not alone and that there are people here trained and willing to help them and their families," Anderson said.

The program is comprised of Anderson and five other registered nurses specially trained to care for sexual assault victims and collect the medical evidence needed by authorities to prosecute the attackers.

There also are 14 trained volunteer advocates who provide support and related assistance, including crisis intervention, to victims and their families. The nurses and advocates are available 24 hours.

"First and foremost, we're here to help and support the victims. It also is our mission to provide community awareness education about rape and other sexual assaults," Anderson said.

In the past, Ware County-area sexual assault victims either had to call emergency 911 or went to a hospital emergency room, she said.

"But there was no follow-up or support services available in our area. Until now, the closest rape crisis program was Brunswick, Valdosta or Jacksonville -- all about an hour and a half away from the people who needed it," Anderson said.

Cathy Williams, a volunteer advocate, said they work the crisis hot line, are called out to the hospital to be with victims and their families and do follow-up support work.

"We do follow-ups all the way from the hospital to the courtroom for hearings and the trial. And after that, we check up on them to see how they and their families are doing," Williams said.

Satilla Regional Medical Center in Waycross, which is headquarters for the rape crisis program, has treated victims of sex crimes from Ware, Pierce, Brantley and Charlton County.

The number of those cases has steadily increased over the past few years, Anderson said.

Anderson said the hospital has handled 40 sexual assault cases since Jan. 1. There were 34 last year and 28 in 1997, she said.

"The problem of sexual assault has always been national, state and communitywide, but because of [heightened] public awareness and education, more people are reporting it now and victims are getting help," Anderson said.

But a disturbing trend has emerged.

"So far this year, 45 percent of our victims have been children younger than 12, while 29 percent were from 12 to 17 years old," Anderson said. "Last year, 52 percent of them were children under 12, and it was 50 percent in 1997."

Anderson attributed the increasing caseload to heightened public awareness and community education about sexual assaults that has encouraged more people to report the attacks. …

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