by Meg Smith
MONROE, La. (KNOE 8 News)--It's sexual abuse awareness month, and local leaders are stepping up their efforts to try and help victims. In fact, in 2010 alone, 89 sexual assaults were reported in northeast Louisiana parishes. A new, specially trained group is hoping to reach out to victims during the worst time in their lives.
Caroline Cascio and Melanie Clark have a difficult job. They're some of the first people sexual assault victims talk to after they've been violated.
"What happens a lot is a lot of family members won't believe the victim," Clark said.
"A lot of people don't know what's happened to them and begin to question their mental health," Cascio said. "We walk them through that process."
Clark and Cascio, along with advocates for sexual assault victims, have formed a one stop shop for those they help, called the Sexual Assault Response Team. It's a group of trained doctors, nurses, counselors, and law enforcement, who all work together to help victims. They're hoping it will encourage more victims to come forward to get help.
Many of those victims are children. 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are sexually abused by the time they reach age 18, according to federal statistics.
"It's oftentimes by a family member or someone they know," said assistant district attorney Cindy Lavespere.
That's why leaders encourage parents to look for warning signs, like a change in behavior. They also want victims to know that they're not alone and to get help.
"70% of sexual assaults are not reported," said District Attorney Jerry Jones.
"It's not useless to report this," said Ouachita Parish coroner Dr. Terri O'Neal. "We want victims to know that people won't think badly of them if they report what's happened to them. We don't want the victim to feel like they have anything to be ashamed of."
If you - or someone you know- is a victim of sexual abuse or domestic violence, you can call the Wellspring's crisis line at 323-1505. Your call can remain anonymous.