The statistics are daunting: 1 in 6 American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Even more – males and females both – have been the victims of other forms of sexual assault, which include forced, tricked or manipulated sexual contact.The victims frequently know the perpetrator and are reluctant to report the abuse. More than 50 percent of sexual assaults occur at the victim’s home or within a mile distance.In an effort to address the problem, Lincoln and Gaston counties have teamed with Family Services, Inc., a nonprofit organization, to support AVID, a local agency that assist victims of sexual assaults.In addition to a 24-hour crisis report line, AVID staff and volunteers provide counseling, support groups, legal and medical advocacy, as well as assistance in filing restraining orders and victim’s compensation. Staffers are available to support victims from the hospital visit through the process of pressing charges, including assistance in the courtroom.Services are provided at no cost; the agency is funded in part by United Way, the North Carolina Council for Women, Timken Corp. and VOCA (the Victims of Crime Act).The lives of sexual-assault victims are profoundly affected by the crime. Victims often suffer from depression and even post-traumatic stress syndrome. They are more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide, and frequently abuse alcohol or drugs.“The mental, physical and spiritual well-being of victims is damaged because of the violence,” said Nancy Newman, 66, AVID director for Lincoln and Gaston Counties.“Sexual assaults actually affect the entire community,” she added.“We spend money to fight cancer and other lethal diseases, but sexual assault can also be lethal. Funds must be spent with the same conscious effort to address this issue.”Compounding the problem is the extraordinary reluctance of victims to report the assault. “Victims of sexual abuse may be unwilling to report it because they are ashamed or afraid of the repercussions on the part of the perpetrator,” said Mary Elder, 38, AVID program manager for Lincoln County. “The perpetrator may tell the victim, ‘I’m going to kill your momma and your whole family if you tell,’ or ‘No one will believe you.’ ”Norma Freyre, 43, AVID program director for Gaston County, noted that “In some cases, victims of sexual assault will not openly discuss the incidents with anybody until many years later, when they are forced to the realization of how much it has impacted their lives.”“There is a significant degree of misunderstanding in the minds of the public about the nature of sexual assaults,” said Newman. “It is often not perceived as a violent act because the victim is thought to be at fault. One of our goals is to educate the public in this regard and to provide advocacy for victims, regardless of age or gender.“We make sure that they understand that they are not alone, and we make them aware of their rights.”Elder points out that the agency dealt with 1,300 crisis and support calls in Lincoln and Gaston Counties in the last year. “In addition, we made over 100 educational presentations at churches, as well as middle and high schools,” she added.“We attempt to inform the community about prevention of sexual assault and the nature of healthy relationships.”Yet another issue which AVID has been addressing is the phenomenon of ‘sexting’ – which they define as sending nude or obscene photos or obscene language to others. “Because these submissions can wind up in the wrong hands, they can have a profoundly detrimental effect on the sender beyond what they are remotely aware of,” said Newman.Because sex offenders can assault a significant number of victims before being caught, they are the only criminal class required to register their address with local authorities. Informing the public about the need to report all instances of sexual abuse is a critical step in addressing this problem. “Our 24-hour crisis line is listed in the very front of all Lincoln and Gaston County phone books,” said Newman, “and the lines are staffed by trained personnel. Sixty percent of sexual assaults go unreported, and 15 of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail. Do not be afraid to make that call.”
Friday, Feb. 15, 2013
AVID works to help prevent sexual assault in Lincoln, Gaston counties
Lincoln, Gaston counties provide 24/7 hotline, and ongoing assistance to victims
Norma Freyre, program director for Gaston County, left,; Mary Elder, program director for Lincoln County; and Mary Kendrick, AVID counselor are working to help end sexual assaults.
Want to know more? The AVID crisis line is 704-864-0060. It is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Bruce Dunbridge is a free lance writer.
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