April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Leaders, first responders and advocates in Orange and Osceola County gathered on courthouse steps to proclaim April Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Community leaders and advocates said they want survivors to know they are not alone and by shedding light on the issue of sexual assault this month, they hope more victims come forward.

"I was sexually assaulted in 1991,” Diana Oakley said. “There was no where for me to go for help or counseling.”

But today, because of the work and services available, she has hope for others.

“There are organizations here that will help them where they can get counseling because I don’t want them to go through what I went through,” Oakley said.

The Victim Service Center of Central Florida is the only rape crisis center in the area.

“More than once a day we respond to a rape victim in crisis -- 383 times last year alone,” Lui Damiani of the Victim Service Center of Central Florida said.

State Attorney Aramis Ayala said sadly, these crimes go under reported. In 2018, 19 law enforcement agencies throughout Orange and Osceola counties  submitted 594 sex crime cases to the state attorney’s office. Of those cases, 31 went to trial, resulting in 26 guilty convictions.  The state attorney’s office said their conviction rate of 83 percent is higher than the national average.

“Today is Start by Believing Day – where we can keep their dignity, protect them and cover them, but call a great attention and shed an extremely large light on the crime of sexual violence,” Ayala said.

Ayala said she requires her team to undergo extra layers of training, so that victim advocates are there from the very beginning.

“The more we talk about it, the more survivors will come forward to get the help that they need,” Oakley said.