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Sexual Assault: Where Do Ohio Survivors Turn for Help?

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 Mary Kuhlman, Assistant Managing Editor

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Monday, December 18, 2017   

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Advocates for women say the wave of high profile sexual abuse allegations is helping survivors in Ohio find their voices. But who can they trust?

In a survey of Cuyahoga County residents, most respondents said if they needed assistance after a sexual assault, they would turn to a doctor, nurse, teacher or caseworker. Sondra Miller, president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, said the findings underscore how important it is for people in those roles to know how to respond to a survivor immediately following such a disclosure.

"What can I do to let these individuals know I'm a safe person to talk about this?” Miller said. "How can I be trained and how can I have the skills to respond compassionately, and in a way that helps survivors overcome trauma, as opposed to re-traumatizing them?"

Miller said people in leadership positions should also provide training and resources for staff members about the definitions of sexual assault and rape, the impacts of trauma, and how to provide ongoing support.

Miller explained that fear, shame, dependence and not being believed are some of the many reasons survivors of rape or sexual assault don't come forward to seek help. But she said working through the trauma is crucial to the healing process.

"Survivors often develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and lots of perhaps negative coping skills,” she said. "We know there's a huge correlation between alcohol and drug abuse and sexual assault - anxiety, depression, contemplating suicide, some very serious things."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1-in-5 women and 1-in-75 men in Ohio will experience rape. And amid the wave of sexual misconduct allegations, Miller said her center is seeing unprecedented call volumes at its 24-hour crisis hotline.

"We're definitely feeling the impact of the national news headlines right now,” she said. "In some ways, it's empowering more people to speak out for the very first time. And in other ways, the headlines can be very triggering for survivors, and so they're reaching out for some extra support right now."

There are crisis centers and recovery service organizations throughout Ohio that Miller said will provide support, no matter how long ago someone experienced a sexual assault or rape.


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