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January 8--  People ages 12 and up who are sexually molested now have a place to go for help in Vidalia.

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Ribbon-cutting for the new Refuge Sexual Assault Center was held Tuesday morning at 605 Jackson Street through a partnership between the Refuge Domestic Violence Shelter in Toombs County and the Haven Battered Women's Shelter in Valdosta.

The Haven's Executive Director Michelle Girtman says the Center will primarily serve victims of sexual assault in Toombs, Emanuel, Treutlen, Montgomery and Wheeler Counties, "We're going to have a nurse here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a 45-minute response time.  Not only are we going to provide a service, we are going to be able to provide a quality service accurately and in a timely manner.  A rape victim will have somewhere to go that just concentrates on what's going on in their life and what their need is and to help law enforcement make the investigative process go faster.  That's a big help to not only victims but also to law enforcement and prosecution at the District Attorney's office."

Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney Hayward Altman says the Center will provide critical evidence for use in court, "Without them, the case can't go forward.  It's extremely important to provide a safe area for the victim.  The experts here can actually do the investigation and give us a good case we can prosecute in the courtroom."

Start-up funding for the Center is being provided through the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.  Deputy Director Steven Hatfield says one of the Council's goals is to provide resources to under-served rural areas of the state and he hopes the Center will encourage victims to report sexual assaults,"I think it's something that's very under-reported and something we need to do a better job as a state and nation in getting that outreach out there.  People need to understand this is a problem and there are safe places life the Refuge.  This will be our 23rd state-funded sexual assault center in the state of Georgia.  It's something where we need more education and more advocacy.  There's never enough, but this is a great step forward for this area in Vidalia."

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