SPECIAL REPORT: Olmsted County sexual assault data remains stagn - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

SPECIAL REPORT: Olmsted County sexual assault data remains stagnant

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In 2012 alone, Olmsted County Victim Services helped more than 180 people find resources and support. In 2012 alone, Olmsted County Victim Services helped more than 180 people find resources and support.
Olmsted County has averaged 65 reports of rape per year for the last five years Olmsted County has averaged 65 reports of rape per year for the last five years

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- It's been almost 40 years since a 24-hour crisis line was implemented in Rochester for victims of sexual assault, but the number of people who become victims of sexual violence has remained relatively unchanged the last decade.

Sexual violence is one of the most underreported crimes out there. Officials estimate only one of every six victims actually report the crime to police.

Victim Services of Olmsted County hopes to help those who come forward while providing resources for the statistically high number of men and women who will become victims every year.

"This is a problem in our society and community,” said Victim Services Volunteer Coordinator Neil Dennison.

According to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Olmsted County has averaged 65 reports of rape per year for the last five years. Dennison said the numbers don't change much from year to year.

"You'll see that the numbers are always pretty consistent, and that's where we need the continued education and prevention, on how can people stop this from happening?" he said.

In 2012, nearly 200 sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement in Olmsted County. More than half of the cases reported to Rochester police, and 85 percent of cases reported to the sheriff's office were children. In 2012 alone, Victim Services helped more than 180 people find resources and support. After office hours help is available 24 hours a day through a crisis hotline.

"We have volunteers that are trained to become sexual assault advocates that can help provide resources, give support, and connect them with our office for future follow up,” said Dennison.

The latest class of those volunteers is currently undergoing a 40-hour training program. They'll be equipped with the skills to answer a call from a total stranger, during some of the most scarring moments of their life.

"It's about giving options to individuals that have lost that option of choice,” said volunteer Colleen Farley.

The crisis line volunteers are from all walks of life.

"I wanted to get a more active role in the Rochester community,” said University of Minnesota Rochester student Rachel Rask. "I've learned how there are so many resources in the Rochester community for people, probably a lot of things they don't even think about until after the fact when they could have used that resource."

Another volunteer, Jeffery Jurewicz, is using the class as training for a job with Mission 21 in Rochester. "I want to become a better advocate,” he said.

As volunteers sit in class after hours at the Government Center, they are given the tools to de-escalate a caller and prepare them for whatever they may hear when they pick up the phone.

"It's all about whether that individual has consented to it," said Farley. "It could be something that they've been married for 50 years, and just that one time, she did not want it."

Although many are, not all sexual assaults are domestic situations. It could be anything a man or woman has not consented to.

Brianna Allen is a student at University of Minnesota Rochester. She's taking these skills back to the dorms at UMR, where she's an RA.

"It's part of my training as a resident assistant,” said Allen. "Sometimes people think because UMR is so small that we don't really have those issues, and I would definitely agree that we have less of those issues than a larger campus, but we still have off-campus parties, and you know, stuff happens."

Although there may be fresh faces manning the hotline, for at least the last decade, the numbers have idled. One in five females and one in six males will be a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime.

"It's an unfortunate norm that we need to stop,” said Dennison. "We have to have this continuous conversation that sexual violence is not okay, domestic violence is not okay,” he said.

He adds that for these numbers to finally begin a decline, we need to open up a discussion that stresses it's all about consent.

In just a few days, the class of crisis hotline volunteers will take their last class and be ready to start answering the lines, hoping one day, their help might not be in such high demand.

If you're interested in volunteering, you can visit the Victim Services website here.

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