Police have investigated 13 sexual assaults in the city so far this year, but with summer rapidly approaching, the Rape Crisis Center in Myrtle Beach is bracing for those numbers to increase over the coming months.
“What’s really important to note is that we have an increase in the number of people needing our services in the summer months,” said Tina Toth, sexual assault counselor for the Rape Crisis Center. “It’s kind of a good reminder to have sexual assault awareness week in April.”
Coastal Carolina University is participating with events all week and started a Red Flag Campaign by flying red flags across campus Monday. The campaign encourages people to speak out “if you see a red flag.”
Students also made t-shirts with statements about supporting sexual abuse victims that were hung on clotheslines to be displayed all week.
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Of the 13 sexual assaults in Myrtle Beach, Capt. David Knipes said seven were rapes. The other six were investigations of indecent fondling or touching.
Rapes across South Carolina increased 6 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to the Uniform Crime Report released by the State Law Enforcement Division last week and more than half of all victims are assaulted by acquaintances.
Horry County had the second highest rate of rape in 2011 with 6.3 per 10,000 people, the report said. There were 175 incidents investigated that year. Numbers for 2012 and 2013 were not available Monday.
Toth said sexual assaults in Horry County typically peak during the summer.
“Our numbers go through the roof,” she said. “A lot more people have evidence collected [at hospitals] during the summer months.”
She said the transient nature of the area likely contributes to the high numbers in the summer.
“Not only are there more people at risk, there are more perpetrators,” Toth said. “Tourists here can end up in bad situations.”
With two counselors and a third person to handle outreach, Toth said the Rape Crisis Center, which serves Horry and Georgetown counties, relies heavily on their volunteers.
“They help us cover the hotline,” she said. “We deal with crisis calls for people who have had a sexual assault recently or a long time ago.”
She said the hotline is also how counselors are dispatched to the hospital when a rape is reported.
With a message similar to CCU’s Red Flag Campaign, the Rape Crisis Center is holding a community walk on April 20 called “Break the Silence Walk.”
Toth said it’s the first time the organization has hosted a walk and the idea came out of the adult survivors group, which hopes to generate more conversations about sexual assault issues.
“So many people dismiss these issues,” she said. “They may feel it threatens their safety if they admit this kind of crime is possible. It makes you [feel] safer, like what you don’t see can’t hurt you.”
But, Toth said talking about it and being aware of it could help reduce numbers.
Assaults could be avoided by using a buddy system when headed out on the town and keeping an eye on alcohol consumption.
“We want everyone to enjoy the beach and live their lives, but be aware and know who you’re with,” Toth said. “A lot of time perpetrators are making contact with people in a bar, just becoming acquainted and at the end of the night that’s the person you’re assaulted by.”
In the event of an assault, Toth said go directly to the emergency room without showering or changing clothes so evidence can be collected. The hospital can then call police and a rape crisis counselor. Federal law allows victims one year to decide if the evidence should be processed and charges should be filed, Toth said.
“There are big decisions that need to be made,” she said. “We want to collect this information and give people the time to process their emotions [and] work through the trauma before they have to decide if they want to speak publically, possibly on a witness stand in a courtroom.”