Victims rights week getting notice locally

With a theme of “New Challenges. New Solutions,” National Crime Victims’ Rights Week kicks off nationwide April 21.

According to Seneca County Victim Assistance Program Director Libra Martin, the theme is more than appropriate for Seneca County.

“We’re definitely seeing new challenges with teens,” Martin said.

Seneca County victims’ advocates have been working to educate local teens about crimes that could affect them, including rape, sexual abuse, dating violence and sexting. Martin said an increase in those crimes has been widespread.

According to national statistics from the Office for Victims of Crime, in 2010, victims ages 12 or older experienced a total of 188,380 rapes or sexual assaults.

Martin said Seneca County also has begun to see an increase in adults having inappropriate relations with minors, a crime brought on by an offender “grooming” a victim into having a sexual relationship.

To help educate students, victims’ advocates visit local schools and colleges where they offer brochures and advice for students. The agency’s door also is open to anyone seeking help or resources, Martin said.

“Education is so important,” she said.

Martin said social media can sometimes serve as a catalyst in many crimes, and parents should keep a close eye on their teen’s computer and cell phone activity.

“Social media can be a plus, but it can also be a problem,” Martin said.

Having open communication with your children also is important, Martin said. If a child or teen feels comfortable talking with a parent and a high level of trust has been established, the parent will likely be more in tune with their son or daughter’s life, she said.

“A lot of times things get overlooked, but having that communication helps,” she said.

Other crimes that often affect children and teens include domestic violence and child abuse, Martin said. Those type of cases also have been on the uptick in Seneca County.

“When you see children that are just used and abused for someone else’s pleasure, or when you see a child that’s physically abused … It’s hard to fathom in your mind why someone would want to do that,” she said.

Martin said there are 3.3 million child abuse cases in the United States each year, with a report of child abuse made every 10 seconds.

She said if child abuse is suspected, it should be reported to law enforcement. Martin said it can be reported anonymously.

“If you see a child that looks strange or withdrawn or there are different bruises on the child, it’s important to keep an eye out,” Martin said.

While child abuse cases, domestic violence cases and sexual abuse cases make up a large portion of the more than 800 cases a year assigned to the Seneca County Victims’ Assistance Program, other cases assigned to them include non-violent crimes such as property crimes and identity theft.

Protection orders also can be obtained through the program.

Martin said in any type of case, crisis intervention is available 24 hours a day. Advocates provide victims with a variety of support outlets, including emotional support, counseling resources and basic necessities such as clothing and a place to stay. They also follow a victim through the course of a court case, offering support throughout the way, Martin said.

If advocates cannot directly assist a victim, then they will contact a different resource that can, she said.

“I always think it’s significant for people to know they are important. Something tragic has happened to them, but there’s someone here to talk to you and listen to you. You do have rights in the state of Ohio. There’s support and different agencies there to help. They don’t have to go through this by themselves,” Martin said.

The Seneca County Victim Assistance Program can be reached at (419) 448-5070 or (888) 507-6724. Anyone can call or visit the office, located at 71 S. Washington St., free of charge.