On The Lookout: Defining Sexual Violence

WICOMICO CO., Md. - Sexual assault, rape and sexual violence: crimes legally defined as engaging in a sexual act by force or the threat of force.

State's attorney Matt Maciarello says the crime is charged depending on the severity.  Some victims, he says, have been suffocated, even strangled during rape.

"It shocks our communities consciousness," said Maciarello.

Other victims, says Life Crisis Center executive director Michele Hughes, deal with unwanted sexual touching.

"A number of women who have been pinched in elevators, that's sexual violence," says Hughes.

But the pain for the hundreds of victims just in Wicomico County goes beyond the words written in a criminal law book.
"They struggle with a self reflection of what they've done that day," said Sgt. David Owens. "Did they do everything that they did to protect themselves?  How are they ever going to get past this?"

In the United States, according to the U.S. Department Of Justice National Crime Victimization Study, a person is sexually assaulted every two minutes. According to Owens, a majority of crimes in Wicomico County are going unreported.

WMDT examined the numbers in 2013.

Life Crisis Center, which offers therapy for Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties heard from 366 victims. Peninsula Regional Medical Center treated close to 140 people for sexual assault. But WBI says only 46 cases were reported with 18 arrests.

"When you go through the court process, you have to watch a patient on the stand and have to listen to them talk about what happened to them," said Eunice Esposito, a forensic nurse examiner at PRMC.

"Through the details in front of a filled courtroom and in front of 12-13 people that they don't even know and describe in detail a sexual encounter and explain to these people what happened to them, you can understand why they don't want to report it."

Hughes says unless society changes perceptions of the word rape, many victims will continue to hide and criminals continue to prey.
"Without change in our attitude in this country about sexual violence, you're going to have low numbers in reports," said Hughes.

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