OLEAN, NY — Every 107 seconds a person is sexually assaulted, and an average of 293,066 people are victims of rape and sexual assault each year.
Those were among the facts given during “What You Should Know About Sexual Assault,” the first 2017 presentation of Olean General Hospital’s Community Breakfast Series, held on April 5.
What else did presenters want the approximately 25 attendees from Olean and neighboring communities to know? The answer is that victims are being offered assistance locally to help them deal with the impacts.
The attendees enjoyed a complimentary breakfast of coffee, tea, fruits and pastries beginning at 7:45 a.m. in the hospital’s Education Center before Dennis McCarthy, vice president of marketing and communications at Olean General, stood at the front of the room at 8:15, preparing to introduce that morning’s difficult topic.
“We want to talk about something that is very, very important that is unfortunately prevalent in this society today,” McCarthy said and opened the floor for three experienced individuals representing the hospital and the Southern Tier Health Care System to shine light on the impacts of sexual assault and what options are available to help victims.
“April is sexual assault awareness month and, really, the objective for today is awareness,” Denise O’Neil, a sexual assault nurse examiner at the hospital, said, beginning the presentation. "It's a taboo subject. No one likes to talk about it and we'd like to think that it doesn't exist, but it does."
For 10 years O’Neil has worked with victims of sexual assault, and she stressed that those victims have trauma for the rest of their lives. Impacts include self blame, depression, inability to form relationships, loss of relationships and chronic pain, among others.
“When we try to understand rape and sexual assault we have to understand that it can happen between different genders or of the same gender, even if the person was your date, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or someone you live with,” O’Neil said.
As a sexual assault nurse examiner, O’Neil provides care for victims who seek help at the hospital located at 515 Main St. She explained that Olean General serves as a center of excellence, meaning it offers examination rooms immediately available and equipped showers; specialized examination equipment; forensic and nurse examiners, and a team approach. After examinations, victims are offered free treatments to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and pregnancy following exams. According to O’Neil, victims are treated as patients, and their visits at Olean General Hospital are kept confidential and do not involve insurance companies.
In cases of sexual abuse to a child, however, the Southern Tier Child Advocacy Center is usually involved.
Mark Crosson, detective sergeant of the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office at the Child Advocacy Center, outlined the center’s helpfulness in cases of victims aged 18 or below. He said the center, located at 772 Main St., provides a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach involving interviews, medical exams, psychologists and therapists to provide support to children in a friendly environment.
“We did 122 forensic interviews last year,” Crosson, who conducts forensic interviews at the center, said.
According to Crosson, the center began in 2007 and handled 70 cases its first year. In the years since then, the center has helped 2,413 children and has educated even more.
“We go into local schools. Some schools are very receptive and some schools don’t want anything to do with us. I don’t understand why. It baffles me why they wouldn’t want to be informed about this,” Crosson said, recommending parents encourage the schools to participate in outreach programs.
While the Child Advocacy Center has goals to reduce trauma, promote justice and foster healing, the center would like to promote advocacy, Crosson said, finishing his segment of the breakfast series.
Mason Maynard was the last presenter and he showed a few PowerPoint slides to explain how the Cattaraugus Community Action Victim Services Division provides free comprehensive support services and case management to victims.
“This is a very hard topic to start a Wednesday morning off with and it takes courage from a community to talk about this,” said Maynard, victim services program director.
He told the group gathered that in each case, victim services explains the legal rights to a victim, provides transportation to a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner program, offers long-term services and acts as an umbrella for medical care and law enforcement. The program also has a 24-hour hotline for assistance: 1-888-945-3970.
“Denise is the professional for medical care, Mark is important for law enforcement, and we try to make them more comfortable through the process,” Maynard said of Victim Services. “Knowledge is power and when we give a victim knowledge we give them power.”
And Maynard acknowledged the attendees, saying, “It’s really encouraging to see so many full tables.”
O'Neil closed the presentation, telling the group, "Thank you for being part of the solution.
The next OGH Community Breakfast Series presentation will be on May 3 and will concern how to better understand E-Health and the transformation to paperless records.