JACKSONVILLE, FL - "When JSO [Jacksonville Sheriff's Office] and all of the other law enforcement reported upwards of 500 survivors last year, we served 700. So there is at least 200 right there that came in for services with us and that is not including those who never report even to us," tells Robin Graber as he sits in the garden at the Women's Center of Jacksonville.
Graber is the Rape Recovery Team Program Director at the Women's Center of Jacksonville and has seen the phone calls continue to rise. He says last year the center got 3,000 calls to its Rape Crisis Hotline -- the most it has ever gotten. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so we want to take a moment to show survivors the help that is out there.
Survivors like Tiffany Sarroca. Her artwork hangs on the walls of the Women's Center of Jacksonville. A lover of art, for her a picture is worth a thousand words, but when it came to talking about what she had been through… words were hard to find.
"I was so used to just pushing it down," she explains.
She says it got to a point where a friend encouraged her to call the hotline. She was nervous, but then the counselor help calm the nerves.
"The first session I just cried, it was no words just crying. It was nice to have somebody listen to you," tells Tiffany.
When a survivor calls the hotline, they don't have to give a name and they can even come in an have forensic evidence collected by the Women's Center while they decide if they want to make a report. From October to December, Graber says the center saw a 30% increase in calls. He thinks part of that is from more news and social media coverage of sexual assault cases.
"There was the Stanford case and the survivor sent in her victim impact statement to Buzzfeed and it was shared millions of times. It shows survivors I am not alone, there's someone else out there so let me call," says Graber.
It also dispels the idea that rape only comes from a stranger that attacks, because in reality the majority of perpetrators are people the victim already knows.
"We really try to remind them that it was the perpetrator that chose to do this act. There is no one thing that causes rape or assault besides the perpetrator," say Graber.
As for Tiffany Sarroca, she says talking to someone helped her let go of the anger she was carrying and it changed her life.
"I feel more outgoing, I can approach people, I don't feel like I'm carrying this burden around with me. It is just nice to be me," she says with a smile.
The number for the rape crisis hotline is 904-721-7273 and it is 24-7 line. You can remain anonymous if you call. It is also open to women, men and transgender survivors. It is also open to friends or family members of survivors looking for advice.
If you want to make a report, but are afraid of going to the sheriff's office, you can go to the Women's Center of Jacksonville and the officers will come to you there and a counselor will help you through it.
The address is 5644 Colcord Ave Jacksonville, FL 32211-7017.
If you would like to donate to help the Women's Center of Jacksonville raise money for a new facility please visit their website: https://womenscenterofjax.org/