Sexual assualt touches all walks of life

Tue, 05/02/2006 - 3:52pm
By: Ben Nelms

It is hard to know what to do and where to turn when your world is shattered and danger is all around. Unlike the community wide devastation from hurricanes, floods and tornados, individual lives sometimes shatter at the hands of others. And many times it is women who become the specific targets, women who suffer the consequences of a crime perpetrated on them. One such crime is sexual assault.

Sexual assault happens in genocide-laden Dafur, in western Sudan, where civil society has all but been destroyed. Sexual assault happens in the locked down “pleasure” houses of Thailand where, after being “leased” from their parents for a year, young girls, and sometimes boys, are at the mercy of anyone from any country with the money to pay. And sexual assault happens in Fayette County, Georgia. Much more orderly when compared to global standards of conduct, Fayette County and the United States face a present and growing tragedy, one that goes largely unreported. In fact, rape is the fastest growing violent crime in America, even though only one rape in 10 is reported.

In the United States, April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Yet for some, such as the largely volunteer force at the non-profit Southern Crescent Sexual Assault Center, the fight against this most illusive crime is never ending. Southern Crescent began in 1994 in the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office. In 2000, the organization became an independent non-profit, serving Clayton, Fayette and Henry counties. Attempting to combat the largely denied and ever increasing number of sexual assaults, the center’s five paid staff and 20-40 volunteers have their hands full. In 2005 alone, Southern Crescent served 358 clients.

The center has two prime focuses, said Executive Director Jennifer Bivins. One thrust is to provide direct services while the other provides education and outreach.

“Our mission is to reduce the threat of sexual assault on a local, state and national level through prevention, intervention and education,” said Bivins. “So on the direct service side we have victim advocates who go out to hospitals to assist those who have been assaulted and need an exam. We have a 24-hour crisis line with trained staff. We give referrals to clients that need help with short-term and long-term counseling. We work with individuals who have trials coming up, liaisoning with police departments and district attorneys or solicitors offices. We help guide clients through the system. That’s because they are confused and they are lost a little bit as to what they need to do. So since we are a lot more familiar with the system we try to help in that respect.”

“On the education side we really try to connect with all three of the school systems in our service area,” Bivins continued. “With the smaller children it may be the ‘Good Touch/Bad Touch’ presentation. For middle schools bullying and sexual harassment are bigger issues so we address that with age-appropriate materials. And for high school students we address the world of dating. We also do presentations with those going on to college settings, because a large majority of assaults are with the younger college-aged students. They need to be able to say no and be taken seriously. We also make them aware that, if they are assaulted, it’s not their fault.”

Bivins referenced the myths, misgivings and denial that surrounds sexual assault. Those myths exist with teenagers and adults, with children and parents, and with society at large, she said.

“It’s best not to muddle the issues. Parents will say over and over, ‘If they had just stayed at home this wouldn’t have happened,’” she explained, citing one of the many examples of myth and denial. “They are blaming the child, maybe not intentionally, but they are so angry and upset they don’t know how to respond. It’s okay to be upset with them because they left the house, but understand that somebody committed a crime against them.”

It is estimated that one out of every four women and one in every six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Like child abuse and domestic violence, sexual assault transcends logic and so often defies law enforcement or the judicial system to tread on its physical or psychological domain. The reasons for this are not so opaque. For the victims, those reasons often rest in a foundation of powerful emotions such as guilt or fear. And for the perpetrators, the reasons lurk with stealth, under the surface and out of visible sight, in territoriality and power. As for a positive future on a societal level, one where sexual assault will end, Bivins may be idealistic, but then, there is no good reason not to be.

“We believe that one day we will get to the point where we can say that society no longer tolerates violence against women,” Bivins said. “At the center level, we are trying to address that issue by joining with the community to ask what are we doing to perpetuate violence against women and to ask what we need to do to end violence against women.”

Southern Crescent serves hundreds of clients each year in Fayette, Henry and Clayton counties. In 2005, the organization interacted with more than 16,000 community members, including youth, parents, elders, health professionals and law enforcement officers. Also in 2005, more than 200 first time callers responded to the center’s 24-hour crisis line. And, perhaps as chilling as any statistic, more than half the incoming crisis calls were in reference to a sexual assault in which the assailant was an acquaintance of the victim. The reality of the hidden world of sexual assault in southwest metro Atlanta mirrors that of the United States, where three out of four adult victims know their attacker and where 95 percent of the victims of child sexual assault know the perpetrator.

Whether to offer volunteer or tax-deductible financial assistance, to inquire about programs offered or to have someone to speak with, someone who will understand, Southern Crescent Sexual Assault Center can be contacted in confidence at (770) 603-4045, via its 24-hour crisis line at (770) 477-2177 or at

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