Cocoa police admitted on November 8, 2013 that a breakdown in the department allowed a man accused of raping a mentally disabled woman to freely walk the streets for a year before he was finally arrested. Jermaine Smith is behind bars for being accused of breaking into the Cocoa home of a mentally disabled woman more than a year ago and sexually assaulting her. The Cocoa Beach police department did not realize the rape kit lab results were not sent in until months after the rape. As soon as they got the results they charged the accused rapist and brought him into custody.
It is heartbreaking for me as a sexual abuse recovery expert to hear this sad story to this innocent woman in Cocoa Beach, FL. It was reported that she was burglarized and assaulted in her own home by a stranger. She immediately went to the police and submitted DNA evidence after the sexual assault. What she was most likely looking for was safety and security provided by the police department but she did not receive this fully until a year later. Fear, shock, sadness, anger, confusion, shame and desolation, these are the common reactions individuals can experience after being sexual abused or assaulted. One’s life is forever change after one day or incident of sexual abuse and assault. A lot of survivors’ of sexual abuse report feeling like damaged goods and most of the time feel isolated from their loved ones, peers, and society. According to the National Institute of Health, 1 out of 3 women will experience some form of sexual abuse or assault. Over half of these women will never report the incident to anyone, let alone the authorities. Majority of sexual abuse survivors blame themselves for the assault when clearly the perpetrator is 100% responsible. It is essential for sexual abuse and rape survivors to get support from loved ones, friends, and authorities to recover from the trauma. Most of the time these support systems do not know how to support survivors and at times their responses or lack there of can re-traumatize the victims without them even realizing it.
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4 Tips for supporting loved ones who were sexually abused or assaulted
- Listen and Believe them – If someone you know trusts you enough to share their sexual abuse trauma with you stay calm and supportive. Most survivors do not tell anyone and if they are entrusting you with this secret they want to be heard. Do not deny them this or tell them it is too much hear. This can re-victimize them to believe that this tragedy is better kept a secret and never receive help.
- Validate – Reinforce that the abuse or assault was not their fault! Majority of survivors blame themselves and develop self-loathing attitudes and beliefs about themselves. Tell them what feelings you are experiencing after hearing this traumatic event.
- Encourage them to get help and counseling – Most survivors have intense emotional reactions after the abuse and these unresolved feelings can develop a lot of unhealthy behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. If untreated and a survivor denies the impact this trauma had on them it can bring a lot of emotional and relational problems to ones life forever. The sooner a survivor gets help the better.
- Call the police immediately if a child or elder tells you about the abuse- In 2012 Florida legislation passed a law that everyone in Florida is a mandated reporter but some people are professionally mandated reporters. For example, social workers, medical and mental health professionals, teachers and other school officials must give their names and occupation or place of business when calling. If you are not professionally mandated you are not required to give your name and you can be anonymous. Failure to report child abuse to DCF is now a third degree felony. In FL the hotline to report is 1-800-96-ABUSE. You could immediately change a child’s life for the better by complying with this statute.
Sexual abuse and assault is a serious crime and causes significant psychological damage to one’s life. Help is necessary and essential for one to recover what was taken from this tragedy. There is hope and there is healing, but it cannot be done alone.
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Author: Dana West, MSW, LCSW is an Orlando Marriage Counselor & Addictions, Sexual Abuse Trauma Therapist with Total Life Counseling Center with offices in Southwest Orlando, East Orlando, Winter Park, Lake Mary & Clermont Florida.