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Sexual assault victims have a place to turn for help

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March is Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Kentucky

By Calen McKinney

It happens in larger cities, but also in smaller ones. And Campbellsville is no exception.

In 2013, there were 27 criminal cases filed charging residents with committing sex crimes, including rape, sodomy, incest, sexual abuse and attempting to lure minors for sex via computers. In 2012, there were 11.

One such case has been filed this year, accusing a man of committing both rape and sexual abuse.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has signed a proclamation declaring March as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Kentucky.

Locally, there are many people available for victims of sexual assault to go to for help - and reports of sexual assaults are made almost weekly in Taylor County.

"You see it more and more every time you open the newspaper or turn the TV on,"  said Andrea Underwood, the county's victim advocate who helps victims of misdemeanor sex and other crimes.

She said male and female children are most often the victims she sees who have been sexually abused. And more often than not, the perpetrator is someone they know well.

"That they're used to," she said. "They're not afraid of."

Leticia Salinas-Newton, the county's victim advocate for the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, said very few sexual assaults in Taylor County are committed by those who don't know their victim.

In 2013, Salinas-Newton said, there were 13 sexual abuse cases in the 11th Judicial Circuit, which includes Taylor, Green, Marion and Washington counties. There were 28 sexual assault cases.

Campbellsville Police Chief Tim Hazlette said he remembers two instances in the past two years of a stranger attempting to sexually assault someone.

After a sexual assault report is made, either to Underwood, Salinas-Newton, various law enforcement officers or through parents or teachers, an investigation is begun and a case could be taken to a Taylor County grand jury for possible indictment. Salinas-Newton and Underwood are there to help victims receive the support they need to recover and see their cases move through the court system.

Underwood said it can sometimes take years for victims to feel comfortable enough to come forward and tell someone what has happened to them. She said it's not uncommon for someone in their 20s to say they were abused as a young child.

"They say, 'I feel good enough now that I can tell my story.'"

Lately, Underwood and Salinas-Newton said, they have seen a rise in dating violence, including sexual assault.

The two have presented classes about the issue at Campbellsville University and will soon do so again.

The hardest part in protecting the victims of dating sexual assault, Underwood said, is that those victims can't get an emergency protective order against someone they are dating.

"There's no real protection, unless there's a charge," she said.

To help protect children from being abused, Underwood is quick to give some advice to parents - teach them.

"Teach about what's a good touch, what's a bad touch."

Salinas-Newton says young women should try to always have someone with them, and have a cell phone handy.

"Know who you will be going out with and only go with those you're comfortable with," she said.

Salinas-Newton said it's also good for people to vary their routines, so someone stalking them won't always know where they are. She also encourages victims to talk about what has happened to them.

"You can't bottle it up," she said. "You need to talk about it."

Hazlette said those who have been victimized might exhibit behavioral changes and act out more.

"For parents, they need to be cautious about who their children are with."

Hazlette said he also recommends people lock their doors and windows at night and try not to find themselves alone in an isolated area. If attacked, he said, people should make noise and use light to get people's attention.

"Perpetrators don't want to draw attention to themselves," he said.

Taylor County Sheriff Allen Newton said some people become victims after they are too trusting of other people.

"[The situation] becomes a rape when they say, 'Stop,'" he said. "Make all the racket and the sounds and the noise that you can. Scream and holler and fight back."

Patricia Thompson, deputy chief at Campbellsville Police Department, said people today are more willing to report that they have been the victims of a sexual assault than in the past, and more people are initiating contact with strangers via social media.

"It's no longer seen as an embarrassment if you report," she said.

Today, Thompson said, some girls ages 13 through 16 don't appear to be that young and some perpetrators have said they didn't believe their victims were underage.

"That's not by any means a defense," she said. "If just seems like they're ... more mature at 13. We are more and more seeing these crimes against children."

Thompson said she recommends people be aware of their surroundings and, if they are going to meet someone they have been talking to via social media, they should always do that in public.

"Make sure that someone knows where you are, where you're going to go," she said. "If something makes you feel uncomfortable ... get yourself to a safe place.

"Just don't take for granted that you know someone ... keep your guard up."