Officers arrested the 51-year-old male suspect accused of armed robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault just 45 minutes after receiving a 911 call by the victim on Feb. 28. The caller had been finishing her work duties for the night when she became the victim of a sex crime. While this survivor was able to escape and the suspect was quickly put in custody, the crime itself is all too common in the Northeast Georgia community. 

“… we should be able to go about our daily lives, do pretty much whatever we want, and know that we are not going to be sexually assaulted,” said Executive Director of local assault center and children’s advocacy center, The Cottage, Sally Sheppard.

Today, someone in America is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds, according to The Cottage, and unfortunately the need for survivor care has only increased. Another nonprofit organization, Athens-Clarke County Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, also known as SANE, Inc., states the need for survivor support response at their clinic has increased consistently by more than 11% each year.

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Sex crimes continue to hurt and traumatize Northeast Georgia citizens, and April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 

 

According to Athens-Clarke County Lt. Shaun Barnett, the total number of reported sex offenses in the year 2020 was 184. In this same year, the Cottage served 160 new clients. The Cottage is not the only sexual assault agency in the Athens area, though, but one of three. SANE, Inc. and UGA’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) also treat sexual assault survivors every single day.

The Cottage Sexual Assault Center and Children’s Advocacy Center is located in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Southern Britt)

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Uniform Crime Report found there were 2,684 rapes reported and 433 cases of sexual abuse reported. Although these numbers are significant, these statistics only represent a fraction of sexual assaults that occur each year. Embry Law Firm states “sex-related crimes are underreported primarily because victims feel that they will not be believed, that they will be shamed, or that they will be judged.” For example, in looking at the nation as a whole, The National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s 2018 report estimates that 734,630 people were raped (threatened, attempted or completed) in the U.S. that year; yet, only 25% of these rapes would be self-reported to police.  

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. (Photo Courtesy/MGN Online)

What Can You Do?

Though The Cottage executive director believes there is no “magic potion to keep us safe,” Sheppard puts emphasis on reaching out for help and reporting your case. 

“It’s really hard for me how we can pin down making sure this doesn’t happen to someone else,” said Sheppard, “other than holding the offender accountable and holding society accountable… to get to a point to have people in society where they don’t do stuff like that — to erase rape culture.”

In anticipation of Sexual Awareness Month in April, Sheppard encourages survivors to “please reach out to places like the Cottage” for help; similarly, Barnett encourages citizens to take note of preventative measures.  

“Do what you can to get into survival mode,” said Barnett. “If you are with somebody you are not comfortable with, do the best you can to notify any witnesses or anything like that — anything you can to try to gain somebody’s attention.”

Most notably, though, Sheppard speaks on sexual assault and how no matter the prevention methods, it’s the culture that must change. 

National Sexual Violence Resource Center creates and posts Sexual Assault Awareness Month graphics on their public website to spread awareness and produce safe spaces online. (Photo Courtesy/National Sexual Violence Resource Center)

 

“There is nothing that someone should have had to do differently to justify them not having been raped.” Sally Sheppard. 

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, you can call The Cottage’s crisis hotline at 1-877-363-1912, SANE, Inc. at 800-656-HOPE, or RSVP’s 24-Hour Hotline at 706-542-SAFE.

Southern Britt is a fourth-year with a major in journalism, minor in communications, and certificate in sports media in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

 

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