Mention sexual assault crimes, and visions of Hollywood moguls, TV personalities, national politicians, and sports figures might be the first images that form.
But the truth is, local law enforcement, social workers, and medical providers face victims of sexual assault on a routine basis in the Yates County community, and at least one of the professionals who works with victims admits a harsh truth. “The system doesn’t work in the victim’s favor. You don’t get anything out of reporting sexual assault,” says Jannine Phillips, client services coordinator at Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes.
On the national scene last week, comedian Bill Cosby was convicted by a jury of sexual assault, but it took two trials and the emotional sacrifices of victims who re-lived the painful experiences that changed their lives.
In the past seven months, this community has seen one victim of alleged sexual abuse die from a drug overdose, and another revealed on social media, and eventually on regional TV.
After nine years on the job at Safe Harbors, Phillips has seen all kinds of those situations, and she knows there are many more she and the other four staff and 15 volunteers have not seen. That’s because national statistics reveal that of 1,000 cases of sexual assault, just 310 are reported. Of those, 57 result in arrests, with felony charges arising from seven of those cases. Six of the accused will end up incarcerated. Fifteen out of 16 rapists will see no time in jail for their actions.
According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, rape is consistently the second highest violent crime reported in Yates County, with Yates County Sheriff’s Office, Penn Yan Police, and New York State Police responding to a total of 30 cases between 2012 and 2016. Neighboring counties received the following reports:
Schuyler County: 17
Seneca County: 62
Ontario County: 219
Steuben County: 239
The Penn Yan Police Department handled a high-profile case in late 2017 after social media postings implied a sexual assault occurred at Lloyd’s Limited early Christmas morning, as well as other cases that were less public, but still sensitive due to the community standing of the alleged assailants. These cases are still being worked through the court system, with one lingering in Penn Yan Village Court for more than two years.
Penn Yan Police Chief Dunham praises the work done by Safe Harbors professionals who help conduct interviews with victims, who are often embarrassed to come forward.
Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike says sex-related cases reported to the Yates County Sheriff’s Office since 2013 have ranged from a low of 20 in 2015 to a high of 27 in 2016. Of those cases, three rapes were reported in 2015, 2016, and 2017, while two rapes were reported in 2013 and 2014.
Spike says many of the cases handled by his department come through the New York State Child Abuse hotline, and they are investigated with the Department of Social Services. Some cases occur in neighboring counties, but are reported here. In 2017, deputies made one rape arrest, nine endangerment, and two sex-related offense arrests. Spike says other reports were either unfounded, unsubstantiated, or turned over to another agency.
The unfortunate truth for the victims is that the physical harm may heal, but the emotional damage may last a lifetime and the difficulty of bringing an assailant to justice doesn’t help.
But those who have been victimized in Yates, Seneca, and Ontario Counties can turn to Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes to help navigate the legal and emotional maze ahead of them.
Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes provides services, at no charge, for individuals, children, and families who have experienced sexual assault, sexual abuse, and interpersonal violence.
Safe Harbors staff offer individual counseling, support groups, legal accompaniment, and personal advocacy with referrals to other local agencies. They also provide primary prevention services in schools, professional agencies, and in the community.
Their work often begins when a call comes in on the agency’s hotline. Many of those callers are from people who say they know someone who has been a victim, and they want to know how to help them, says Phillips.
Safe Harbors staff encourage the victim to go to a hospital even if it’s been a week or more after the incident. An advocate will go with them for support, and will help them take the case to law enforcement whenever they want to go.
The staff work closely with law enforcement and criminal justice agencies through the entire process. All services are free, immediate, and confidential.
If you are in crisis and cannot reach anyone at the office, call the hotline day or night. 1-800-247-7273. For more information visit http://shflny.org/