Sexual violence real experience for some Chatham youth

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/13/19

According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 10.9 percent of Chatham high schoolers said they have ever been “physically forced to have sexual intercourse,” compared to 8.4 percent in the state and 7.4 percent in the country. But those who work in the field say that number could be higher.

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Sexual violence real experience for some Chatham youth

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Sexual assault and harassment has been in the national spotlight in recent years, with the #MeToo movement and some big-name celebrities losing their fame due to allegations and arrests.

In Chatham County, while significant individuals may not have gone down, teenagers are still experiencing sexual violence.

According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 10.9 percent of Chatham high schoolers said they have ever been “physically forced to have sexual intercourse,” compared to 8.4 percent in the state and 7.4 percent in the country. But those who work in the field say that number could be higher.

Additionally, 13 percent said they had “experienced sexual violence,” meaning they had been “forced by anyone to do sexual things,” in the 12 months before the survey. That’s compared to 11.9 percent in North Carolina and 9.7 percent across America.

Renita Foxx is the director of Chatham County Court Programs and one of the administrators of the county’s new Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Help Line. She’s also a Licensed Professional Counselor and said most youth aren’t familiar with how to handle sexual assault and domestic violence situations. She thinks the county could be doing a better job making youth more comfortable reporting.

“This is something we as a community are going to have to work towards, to make them feel safe and aware of the resources,” she said. “We don’t have many youth that are coming in for protection orders or are asking about safety plans. I feel that it is our duty as a community agency to make sure that we take into account this population.”

Tamsey Hill, who operates Second Bloom of Chatham, the county’s current provider of domestic violence and sexual assault services, said teenagers are in the midst of “coming to grips with sexuality and sex” and may not have the “capacity or knowledge” to understand what has happened.

“Teens are also figuring out their own identity in the world – how does this label them in their own minds and how will this label them in their social groups,” Hill said. “Assailants are usually known to the victim, which can lead to confusion of why someone I trust or know would do this, maybe it is okay, or I cannot say this about someone everyone likes/loves. Sexual assault can become okay or a norm.”

Youth across America are going to school environments where, according to research, sexual harassment is somewhat common. The most recent data from 2011, courtesy of the American Association of University Women, said that 48 percent of 7th through 12th graders had experienced some form of sexual harassment during the school day, and 30 percent of students experienced that harassment at least in part via social media or other electronic means.

While there are no reports of any sexual assaults happening on school grounds in Chatham, the 2017 YRBS surveyed 968 students in four public and public charter high schools, meaning at least around 105 students had ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse and 125 had experienced sexual violence in the last 12 months. Additionally, 7.8 percent of student respondents said they had experienced sexual violence in the context of dating in the last year, while 9.9 percent had experienced physical violence from someone they were dating or going out with during that time.

Foxx said local organizations need to be working to create or avail themselves of more resources that are more “inclusive of our youth.”

“We’ve got to start looking at putting things in their terms where they can actually relate and understand, that just because they’re not married they’re still exposed to it and help them understand the resources that are available for them,” she said. “I guess I’d have to honestly say that that’s an area that we need more work.”

Second Bloom is currently, Hill said, “rebuilding” services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims in the county after last year’s closure of the Family Violence Rape Crisis Center. In the meantime, she said, teens need to be believed and helped.

“The key things to say (to teen victims) are I believe you, this is not your fault, you did not deserve this, you are not alone (and) let’s see how we can help you through this,” she said. “What can (we) find that will be of help and healing to you? This may mean help for the victim, yet still not reporting.”

Getting those resources out and being available to help, Foxx added, is vital for the long-term health of Chatham’s youth.

“Sexual assault has a connection to mental health,” she said. “If you don’t know where to reach out for self-care, I think that’s a downward spiral that’s eventually going to effect to your mental health.”

Second Bloom is continuing to seek volunteers for the help line. Training begins next week for the next batch of volunteers who, according to the organization, would “provide emotional support and information resources to callers experiencing or affected by intimate partner violence or sexual assault.” For more information, contact Chatham Family Violence Prevention Services at (919) 545-7867 or Second Bloom at (919) 545-0055.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Resources

If you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault and are looking for help, you can call these numbers.

• Chatham Family Violence Prevention Services: (919) 545-STOP (7867)

• Second Bloom of Chatham: (919) 545-0055

• National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: (800) 656-HOPE (4673)

• National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (800) 799-7233

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