Sexual assaults declining, but so is the willingness of victims to talk
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - According to national statistics, sexual assaults have decreased since the 1990's. Still, more than half of the victims of sexual assaults will not report they have been abused.
In Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas, at least a half dozen sexual assault claims have been made public since the beginning of 2015. Those who work with people who say they've been abused are encouraging more to come forward.
In January, the band director at Scotlandville High was arrested and charged with indecent behavior with a 17-year-old. In April, a teacher at Christian Life Academy was accused of sending nude pictures to a 15-year-old student. In August, a former officer from Sorrento and Gonzales was found guilty of molesting a teenage girl.
The latest news, on Tuesday, a Baton Rouge cheerleading coach was arrested and faces charges for allegedly raping an 18-year-old team member.
"A lot of the trends we're seeing locally in terms of increased reporting is a national trend as well," said Rebecca Marchiafava. She works with the Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response Center, commonly known as STAR, in Baton Rouge.
STAR counsels victims age 12 and older.
"A lot of younger women, college age, are coming forward," she says.
Marchiafava works primarily with helping the community to better respond to victims. She says often the community blames the person who says they've been abused, saying they made themselves vulnerable.
STAR is working to get better support for victims, with community education classes. They teach to look for red flags.
Marchiafava says many times an abuser is an authority figure who manipulates their relationship with the victim. That could mean isolating them or showing them more attention. But, she says, they also do a good job of falsely projecting a wholesome image.
"They seek to be the outgoing, charming person. They want to create confusion. Make sure if someone does bring allegations against them, they will be protected by their positive reputation," said Marchiafava.
There are also some questions to keep in mind: Does that person respect boundaries? Do they model that respect? Do they make jokes about sexual relationships with children or teenagers?
While not everyone will show those signs, more victims are coming forward with their story.
For example, the cheerleader in Tuesday's report of the cheer coach being arrested said she did not come forward initially because she was afraid of losing a potential college scholarship. Even though she said she was raped on five separate occasions.
"They realize they're not alone," said Marchiafava. "Usually offenders are repeat offenders. It isn't usually just one victim."
That she says could explain why more cases are being reported.
For more information on what to do or where to find help, visit http://www.brstar.org/.
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