June 19-- Free professional help is available to victims of sexual assault in southeast Georgia.
The Refuge Sexual Assault Center in Vidalia opened in February after officials noted 66 cases of sexual assault during one year in the seven-county area surrounding Vidalia.
Registered Nurse Heather Williams is the Center Director and says victims ages 12 and up receive immediate and long term assistance after an assault.
"The first person who comes in to play is the advocate. That person is dedicated to that victim to help them literally in any way they need. They are the person who comes in contact with them first, be it at the hospital with law enforcement or here at the Center. They help answer questions and talk them through the entire process. They are an emotional support person.
"The second person they're going to meet is the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. That nurse is going to do an interview to find out exactly what happened and then we're going to do a forensic exam to collect evidence from that person's body or clothing, or both, to help law enforcement proceed if that's the direction the case needs to go.
"We also have a counselor or therapist who is able to help mend the mind after the process and it could be days after or it could be years after," she explained.
Seanna Jones provides free counseling to victims,"We take some time to get to know one another and find out what your strengths are and what areas you are having difficulties and challenges with. Sometimes a client will have a partner they're having issues with due to domestic violence or sexual assault in the past and we're able to provide counseling for that, too."
Jones says the consequences of sexual assault can hurt a victim's relationships with others, "Sometimes we're not aware of how we are treating other people and how we are perceiving what other people do. We may have problems keeping a job, handling normal stress of a normal work environment or handling family stress. Having things that are unresolved can make these everyday life situations a lot more difficult to deal with."
The Center conducts weekly support group meetings for female sexual assault victims ages 18 and older and provides free one on one counseling to victims ages 12 and up who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence.