Hot line set up to help victims of sexual abuse

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An elderly woman who had been sexually abused was the first to call a confidential hot line for adult victims put into service by the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence in January.

Within an hour, the woman was sitting down with a NASV counselor and a victim advocate who assessed the situation and offered her support with her issue, according to Lisa Baker, a forensic nurse with NASV.

However, not all calls to the adult sexual assault hot line have had quick resolutions, Baker added.

"I've had a lot of calls where no one speaks. I know someone's there, I can hear them breathe, but they're not speaking," Baker said. "Those are the calls where I take the time to tell them who I am, what the hot line is for, what our services are."

Baker is one of several qualified NASV staff trained to answer the hot line -- 877-820-NASV -- which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It was made available by a three-year grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to help victims in Cape Girardeau, Perry, Bollinger and Madison Counties. Any victim in SEMO-NASV's 10-county coverage area, however, who are needing support may call the hot line.

"We are the only hot line south of St. Louis that's dedicated solely to the issue of sexual violence," said Tammy Gwaltney, executive director of SEMO-NASV.

In addition to being free and confidential, the hot line doesn't require sexual assault victims who call to report their abuse to authorities.

"It's so hard for people to call on this topic," Gwaltney said. "It is not a requirement for them to report in order to get care from us."

Once a NASV advocate, nurse or case coordinator takes the call they immediately begin to address the person's needs. Baker said they're trained to first determine whether the caller has been harmed and if they're in a safe place. If they're not safe, NASV personnel will help them get to a safe place or tell them to call 911 before assisting further. Baker said they'll then ask if the assault has occurred recently or if it's an abusive incident that took place further in the past.

"We'll offer to them all of our services based on what they're calling us for," she said. "Everyone will be offered counseling services ... and a victim advocate can be there if they do want to report the assault."

If it's a recent incident, they'll offer sexual assault evidence collection, even if the victim doesn't want to report the incident. The evidence could be available at a later time if the victim changes their mind, Gwaltney said.

"There's a very small window of opportunity to collect evidence before the body sheds it and it's gone," Baker said.

NASV implemented the confidential adult hot line based on the number of sexual assaults reported each year.

The number of cases are always underreported, according to Gwaltney. According to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network, 60 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement.

For more information on the hot line or to get help through NASV call 573-332-1900. Reports of child abuse can be made by calling 800-392-3738.

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

69 Doctors' Park, Suite C, Cape Girardeau, MO

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