Sexual Assaults

Recent FBI report was ‘not reality’ for sexual assault counselors in Columbia

nophillips@thestate.comSeptember 27, 2013 

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  • A new home for rape crisis center

    Sexual Trauma Services moved this month to a new office at 3830 Forest Drive, Suite 201.

    The agency had to relocate after its former office building on Forest Drive was damaged in a 2012 fire. Its employees had been working out of a nearby temporary office.

    The agency’s phone number is (803) 790-8208.

— When the annual FBI crime report was released last week, the executive director of Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands took one look at the number of reported rapes and thought one thing.

“This is not reality,” said Ginny Waller, who heads the Midlands rape crisis center.

Those who work directly with victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault always say that the official statistics are far lower each year than what really happens. They want to bring awareness to the situation for two reasons.

First, they don’t want the community to believe that a problem does not exist. Second, they hope to make it easier for people to report the assaults.

In 2012, 59 rapes were reported in Lexington County, and 105 were reported in Richland County, the FBI’s latest report said.

Sexual Trauma Services keeps statistics on its cases, but those numbers cannot be compared directly to the FBI’s report. Numbers in each report are gathered by different methods.

The FBI’s numbers did not include rapes reported in Columbia because the police department did not participate in the federal agency’s crime reporting program.

And Sexual Trauma Services numbers count for a four-county area. And, the FBI report only provides numbers for forcible rape, while Sexual Trauma Services sees both people who have suffered rape and other levels of sexual assault.

Still, Waller said her agency’s report illustrates her point.

In 2012, Sexual Trauma Services served 1,395 victims, but only 640 reported the incident to police. In 2011, less than half of the 1,329 people who were sexually assaulted reported their attacks to police, according to numbers provided to The State newspaper.

Victims don’t come forward for a number of reasons: Embarrassment, fear, shame, said Melanie Snipes, director of crisis services at Sexual Trauma Services. And, few perpetrators are punished even if they are arrested, she said. Cases are difficult to prosecute and many sex-related crimes do not carry large penalties, she said.

“What’s the point?” Waller said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a survivor tell me that.”

Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago said he agreed with Waller’s assessment that sexual assaults are under-reported.

He recently met with the Sexual Trauma Services staff and agreed to allow the agency provide advanced officer training on how to speak to victims.

“It was eye-opening with me,” he said of the meeting. “At times, we don’t realize how much something is underreported or why it’s underreported.”

A new home for Columbia rape crisis center

Sexual Trauma Services moved this month to a new office at 3830 Forest Drive, Suite 201.

The agency had to relocate after its former office building on Forest Drive was damaged in a 2012 fire. Its employees had been working out of a nearby temporary office.

The agency’s phone number is (803) 790-8208.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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