Sexual assault, victims’ program outlined

STEUBENVILLE – An emerging partnership between a victims of sexual assault advocacy organization and the American Red Cross, Jefferson County Chapter, was discussed during the city Rotary Club’s Friday luncheon meeting at the YWCA.

Katie Hanna, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, told Rotarians the Cleveland-based organization was an advocacy group that focused on developing programs in Ohio counties for victims of sexual assault. She added that the organization was partnering with the local Red Cross to offer services from counseling to developing public policy on sexually based crimes.

“(The upcoming partnership) will be an wonderful service to have in the community,” said Hanna, adding she was aware of the “media firestorm” recently surrounding the Steubenville rape case. “Sexual violence happens in every community across the nation. We support all the rape crisis centers in Ohio.”

She added the organization had 27 programs in 37 of Ohio’s 88 counties, and that more were coming.

“We do a lot of work on prevention,” Hanna continued. “We can stop these crimes from happening.”

The organization obtains state funding, but resources are stretched thin, said Hanna. The idea was to partner with already existing programs and organizations.

“We need to have more (sexual assault advocacy programs) in the community,” she said.

Hanna said the current statute of limitations for rape in Ohio was 20 years, and her organization was working to extend the statute to a longer period. The push is related to the advances in DNA technology, she added.

“We now have the technology to put away more sexual predators,” Hanna said, adding DNA evidence can be a powerful tool for proving sexual assault.

Hanna explained to Rotarians some staggering statistics concerning sexual assault, including that one in every four girls and one in six boys will have been in some way sexually assaulted by the time they reach age 18. She added most sexual assault is done by someone known to the victim.

“It’s so hard to talk about sexual assault,” Hanna said, adding the organization is working with schools to make educators, pupils and students more aware of the issue. “Who do you tell? Sixty-three percent of these cases are never reported.”

One of the aspects of the local partnership will include the formation of a sexual violence response team, which will offer victims a way to obtain information and assistance in being guided through the system, according to Hanna. The other aspect will be the formation of support groups and access to counseling opportunities for victims, she added.

“That victim may be suffering for a long time,” she said, adding victims need support and resources.

Last year in Ohio there were 8,000 cases of sexual violence reported, with 85 percent being female and 15 percent male, said Hanna. Sixty percent of the cases involved juveniles, she added.

“The majority of (sexual assaults) are done by someone the victim knows,” she said adding in some instances there are multiple assaults.

Hanna said some victims try to bury sexual assaults that occurred during childhood by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. She also said law enforcement was burdened by the crime, as sexual crimes can be difficult and expensive to solve.

“Each rape costs $150,000,” Hanna said, adding that includes victims’ expenses for counseling and lost time at work as well as investigation by law enforcement. “It’s the most expensive crime there is.”

Hanna said with the right resources “healing can happen. But it never goes completely away.”