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New Directions Center Highlights Resources During Sexual Assault Prevention Month

STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) — April is Sexual Assault Prevention Month, and in the Shenandoah Valley, many organizations are working to better educate people about the crime and its prevalence.

One such organization is the New Directions Center in Staunton, which provides free confidential services to victims of sexual assault, such as support groups, hospital accompaniment and advocacy in court.

In 2021, the organization reported 36 calls to its hotline for reports of sexual assaults in Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro. However, New Directions staff say the actual number of assaults in the area is much higher as many go unreported.

“People can call us and not go through the hotline, so it’s not necessarily recorded, some people come in for other things, and then later it comes out that a sexual assault happened,” said Joy Ingram, community engagement program coordinator for New Directions Center. .

Ingram said the number of sexual assault calls to the hotline decreased in 2021 compared to recent years. From 2018 to 2020, the center received a total of 140 calls related to sexual assault, for an average of between 40 and 50 calls each year.

New Directions also works to raise awareness and educate the community about the realities of sexual assault.

“One of the biggest problems is that people don’t want to talk about sexual assault. They don’t want to talk about sex. So they really don’t want to talk about sexual assault. They don’t want to talk about consent,” Ingram said.

“Because they don’t want to talk about these things, especially with young children and teenagers, often when these things happen to people they don’t have the language to explain what happened to them,” said added Ingram.

Ingram said these, combined with the way sexual assaults are often discussed, are a huge reason victims remain silent.

“They are afraid and ashamed to come forward and tell someone what happened to them and there is also a lot of blame for the victims. So the victim doesn’t want to be blamed for what happened to them, so they keep it to themselves,” she said.

Ingram said it was important to believe victims and change the stigma around sexual assault.

Ingram said a common misconception is who the primary perpetrators of rape are.

“There’s a kind of myth around rape that most of it happens between strangers. The majority of sexual assaults are committed by people the victim knows. It’s either a romantic partner or a friend or even a family member,” she said.

The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that an American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds, but only 25 out of every 1,000 sexual assault perpetrators will end up in jail.

RAINN data shows that one in six women in the United States has been a victim of attempted rape or rape in her lifetime. Women aged 18 to 24 are four times more likely to be victims of sexual violence.

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