Majority of sex assault victims under 17 - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Majority of sex assault victims under 17

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Each year hundreds of people on Guam are the victims of sexual assault.  Sadly, the majority of these cases go unreported and the perpetrators are never brought to justice. KUAM News discovered some of the shocking statistics related to sexual assault, and met one service provider that's doing all it can to combat this crime. 

Healing Hearts, Guam's only rape crisis center, has seen an increase in the number of clients who come through their doors.  From 76 clients in 2008 to 116 seen last year, Acting Program Administrator Leticia Piper says in just the first five months of this year, they've already serviced 52 clients - all victims of sexual assault. "We take care of the medical needs of the patient when they come in of course but part of that examination is collecting what may have been left behind as a result of the sexual assault that someone just went through," she explained.

Piper says the increase in cases isn't necessarily attributed to a rise in sexual assault, rather a result of their outreaches in teaching kids and victims to speak out. "We notice that the more we go out into the community the more people are stepping forward and speaking out about their abuse," she said. "So this number is going to rise before we ever see a drop. The reason for that is the more people know about it, even those that have been victimized years ago, they're getting the opportunity now to speak up about what happened to them."

While the rape crisis center sees victims of all ages, the majority of their clients are females and 46 of the 52 cases they received this year alone are all under the age 18.  What's more alarming is that 91% of the victims knew their perpetrator who was either a family member or an acquaintance. Said Piper, "A lot of times it was the person that was taking care of them or was supposed to be taking care of them. Someone who built up a relationship where the child trusted them to take care of them and that's how a lot of people get close to the kids ands that's how a lot of people get victimized because they don't realize that they're being victimized until it's too late."

During outreaches, Piper says they teach kids to listen to their bodies and feelings before they become a victim.  She also recommends that parents begin teaching their kids about the parts of their body early on. "If the parents are not ashamed to teach them those names, the kids will not be ashamed of knowing those parts of their body," she said. "When the kids are equipped with the names of the parts of their body and they know that nobody is supposed to be touching those parts of the body, then we're giving the kids the tools that they need to say no you're not supposed to be touching me there."

Reaching out to the community, Piper says, has been an uphill battle as many in the community don't want to listen to the sensitive topic but she says accepting that sexual assault is a problem is the first step to combat the issue. "But when we as a community are willing to accept that this is a problem that needs to be stopped then we can start working together to deterring, bystanders seeing that something is wrong, stepping in to stop what's going on. Families that see that yes this has been happening for years, but enough is enough you cannot keep hurting our won family," she said.

"If families start coming forward and saying enough, if the community steps forward and says enough already that would mean that we're in the right direction to fight this crime."

For victims of sexual assault who want help and counseling to cope, Healing Hearts is open Monday through Friday but someone is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week to help.  The number is 647-5351.

Piper concluded, "Stepping forward for the first time is the hardest and we'll try to help them through that."

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