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Our View: Sexual Assault Awareness Month comes at a time when some are particularly vulnerable

The stay-at-home directive and other measures aimed at fighting the coronavirus, such as closing “nonessential” businesses, have affected everyone. For some, it’s a minor inconvenience. For others, it’s a major disruption with possible longterm consequences. For those who find themselves trapped in a residence with an abuser, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, cut off from support systems such as friends and family, it is nothing short of an unending, terror-filled nightmare.

That time when the abuser — or the survivor of abuse — was at work or simply out of the house doing other things formerly was a time to seek out help, either in person or via phone call. That’s no longer a ready option. Combine that inability to get away with possible anger over isolation and unemployment, potentially in concert with alcohol, and it’s it’s a dangerous time.

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The Board of County Commissioners proclaimed April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Carroll County during its meeting last week. The proclamation reads, in part: “We encourage our community to work together to educate about what can be done to prevent sexual violence and how to support our survivors. Through prevention, education, increased awareness, and holding [those] who commit acts of violence responsible for their actions, we can be successful in reducing sexual violence in Carroll County.”

That’s an important message to get across anytime, but especially right now. Board President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, noted: "As we continue to be under stay-at-home, it’s important to realize ... these type of things will probably see an uptick.”

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Absolutely. As the coronavirus has spread throughout the world so, too, has an increase in sexual assault, first in China, then in Europe, now in the United States. Emergency calls for domestic violence disturbances and violence grew on average between 10 and 30 percent over the past few weeks, according to a USA Today analysis of crime data from 53 law enforcement agencies in 24 states.

“Domestic violence victims need a lot of the things that we take for granted; they need income, they need health care, they need law enforcement, they need courts, and sometimes they need domestic violence or homeless shelters. And all of those are impacted to varying degrees right now,” Melanie Blow, chief operations officer of the New York-based Stop Abuse Campaign, told Fox News.

Janice Kispert, CEO of Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County said she agreed with Wantz regarding a looming uptick in sexual violence in Carroll, though she said RCIS has not yet seen an increase in calls. She told us she worries that people may not be calling either because they think RCIS is closed, or because they are stuck in a living situation with an abuser and not able to get the space to safely call.

That second reason, a survivor being stuck in such close proximity with an abuser that it is unsafe even to make a quick phone call, is a tremendous concern. Carroll Hospital continues to perform sexual assault forensic examinations, which document and preserve evidence of an assault, law enforcement remains a 911 call away and the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office which prosecuted more than 1,200 sexual violence cases from 2016 through 2018, remains ready to do so.

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That first reason — that people think RCIS is closed — is something Kispert wants to dispel. Though RCIS is not able-to do in-person accompaniments to the hospital at this time, Kispert stressed that their services are still available, including the 24-hour hotline at 410-857-7322 and website, www.rapecrisiscc.org.

We encourage anyone who has been sexually assaulted or is in an abusive relationship to reach out to RCIS, law enforcement or both, when it is safe to do so. And echoing the proclamation, we urge everyone this month, and every month, to do whatever they can to learn about and prevent sexual violence and to support the survivors.

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