JACKSONVILLE, Fla — This close to Christmas, you’ve probably thought of the kids and the presents, but don’t forget about the survivors.
“I think that is someone who has had an unfortunate experience and was able to overcome it and put their energy into a place where they can advocate and support others," Nicole Hamm, Women's Center of Jacksonville board member said. "Which is why I sit on the board of this amazing organization because we continue to support and uplift and do the things that I would’ve known existed and could’ve done when I experienced my assault.”
Nicole Hamm is a survivor. It's a group that keeps growing.
WCJ saw a 38 percent increase in sexual assault forensic exams conducted in October 2021 vs October 2020. This means more people are coming forward.
It could also reflect a rise in sexual assaults and rapes. It is hard to tell because these crimes aren’t always reported. Why?
“I think that there tends to be a stigma of not being believed of what happened," Hamm said. "I think that we tend to see sometimes that there can be victim blaming.”
But not here.
“This is the main center where people come for general information," Chantel Sherer said. "Sexual assault forensic exam center is located about 8 minutes away from here and we do protect the privacy of that location to a degree. When survivors come, we want them to feel completely safe.”
Check with your friends during the holidays. Scherer explains the holidays can be trigger for sexual assault and rape survivors.
WCJ staff say in majority of attacks, the victim knows their attacker. During the holidays, there is often a fear they’ll run into the attacker at a holiday party because many are not in jail.
WCJ says 45% of their cases were unreported to law enforcement. However WCJ is seeing a stark rise is people coming in to get help this year.
“I consider myself a survivor. I know there is many that do," Hamm said. "You know, you continue to push forward and as you do, you make sure no one else is left behind or no one else doesn’t know what you didn’t know.”
Hamm says while surivors must get the sexual assault forensic exam within 120 hours after the attack in order to preserve evidence, you have 2 years to take your time and decide what to do next. Getting the exam does not require you to report.
WCJ works with JSO to preserve the test for two years.
Scherer says you do not have to be a woman to get the free help at the center.