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Free Legal Help for Texas Victims of Sexual Assault

December 19, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - A dark side to the holiday season is the rising number of sexual assaults. A new program offers free, confidential legal assistance to Texas victims. Only about 18 percent report attacks, so the vast majority of victims don't receive help from the criminal justice system, according to Torie Camp, deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Attorneys with the nonprofit Texas Legal Services Center can guide survivors through the many complications that may arise as they try to move on with their lives, Camp says, including "safety concerns, privacy concerns, financial concerns, immigration concerns, education, employment, housing - or even concerns about their criminal case."

For example, she says, some survivors feel compelled to move after being attacked in their apartment. Attorneys can help them break their lease without forfeiting their deposit. Other survivors may not know they're entitled to a free forensic medical exam, if they want to preserve evidence while taking time to decide whether to report an assault. Attorneys can also help obtain protective restraining orders and even assist with modifying college class schedules so victims do not have to continue facing their attackers.

Recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that the rate of sexual assault in Texas is slightly higher than the national average - for both women and men - but Camp cautions that it's almost impossible to estimate the true extent of the problem.

"Sexual violence stays hidden. The survivors themselves often don't tell anyone. But one in five women is sexually assaulted at some point in her lifetime."

The CDC study says survivors often miss school or work as they deal with injuries that require health care. Many show symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

Reports of rising assaults during the holiday season are mostly anecdotal, but hotline operators in Texas say their call volume tends to tick up immediately afterward. New Year's Eve and Independence Day seem to trigger the most assaults, according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV), possibly because of increased alcohol and drug use.

Camp says there's risk whenever people spend extra time with acquaintances, "because the perpetrators of sexual violence are usually people who are close to us - they're our family members, they're our friends. Unfortunately, that may result in more sexual assaults."

Texas survivors can access the Sexual Assault Legal Services and Assistance Program and its hotline by calling toll-free, 888-343-4414. Survivor assistance information is also available at www.http://hopelaws.org.

The CDC report is at http://1.usa.gov/rSYae7, and the NRCDV statistics are available at http://bit.ly/hiAV4f.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX