Local support groups work to raise awareness of sexual assault

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MEXICO - Janelle Williams works with victims of sexual assault and abuse every day. Williams said her mission as a part of the Audrain County Crisis Intervention Services (ACCIS) is to tell victims, "it's not your fault. We stand by you and we support you."

Williams said sexual abuse victims usually hesitate to come forward and report an issue for many reasons. 

"They're afraid of the prosecution, they're afraid of what people might think of them," Williams said. "They think people will judge them, so they don't want to tell what happened but they need our help."

Most times, the victim will know the abuser well, according to Williams. 

"It's not the stranger hiding in the bushes," Williams said. "It's either a family member, someone they're dating, someone they're married to, a friend that they feel comfortable hanging out with and suddenly it goes from just being friends or family to something that's very uncomfortable and wrong for the victims." 

Williams said sexual violence is an ongoing issue that seems to be growing every year so the need for services continues to rise. 

"We have a rape culture mentality that a lot of times will blame the victims," Williams said. "They say you were wearing jeans too tight so therefore you had been asking for it, or wearing a skirt that was too short, or you were drinking, or you were out after dark. These are things that anyone should be able to do. It doesn't justify what happened to them." 

Circuit Clerk of Audrain County Penny Creed-Craghead said society needs to combat a rape culture in schools. 

"I think we need to be starting with the young people, teaching them control, and self respect of others and themselves," Creed-Craghead said. 

Prosecuting attorney for Audrain County Jacob Shellabarger said sexual abuse and violence is a big concern.

"It's an issue all across Missouri but also here in Audrain County. We've been aggressively prosecuting sexual violence and sexual assault over the last few years," Shellabarger said. 

He said the key to improving the culture is by taking the issue seriously. 

"Understanding that sexual violence and domestic violence happen in our community and the victims involved aren't to blame," Shellabarger said. 

Shellabarger said sexual violence can happen in any situation among any different group of people. 

"It's about power and control and finding ways that that becomes the dominance of the aggressor."