Local advocates against sexual violence are pleading with their Johnston County neighbors to speak up about a crime they say is too often ignored.
Nonprofits, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in Johnston say they handle hundreds of cases of sexual violence every year. Harbor Inc., the Smithfield-based shelter for abused women and children, has taken in 23 victims this year, including 16 between the ages of 10 and 18, said Wilma Hampton, a Harbor employee.
Hampton was one of five panelists who spoke last week in Clayton during a forum on sexual violence. She said many victims of sexual violence don’t report the assault. Fellow panelist and Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson agreed, adding that the dozens of cases his office prosecutes each year pale in comparison to the ones that don’t go to court.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Jackson said. “It’s important that we talk about it, because people don’t want to talk about it.”
The panel discussion, held at The Clayton Center, followed a showing of the documentary “My Masculinity Helps,” which focuses on engaging African-American men in the movement against sexual violence. The event was one many Harbor held during Sexual Violence Awareness Month, a nationwide effort to raise public awareness.
Moderator and Clayton Town Councilman Michael Grannis said men have a distinct role in eliminating sexual violence. “Men must work to raise awareness of other men and create a shift in masculine attitudes that condone sexual violence,” he said.
The documentary, filmed and produced in Raleigh, includes bold statistics. Among them: “In the time it takes to get a haircut, 10 women are sexually assaulted.” Local filmmakers Dr. Marc Grimmett and David Hambridge also featured personal accounts from a male and female victim, and they offered tips for supporting victims.
The Rev. Terence Leathers, pastor of Mt. Vernon Christian Church in Clayton, appears in the documentary and calls on men to be leaders. He says it’s important, for instance, that men speak up when someone makes a derogatory joke about a woman, which he calls a form of sexual violence.
With the support of Harbor and the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Violence, Leathers founded a nine-month mentoring program that provides young boys with the tools needed to create communities that are free of sexual violence.
“For too long, we have let sexual assault be something women carry or deal with,” Leathers said. “There is a movement now that in order to impact sexual-violence issues, the men and women must work side by side.”
A 2010 Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention survey found that one in five women and one in 71 men have been raped. In North Carolina alone, rape crisis centers helped 13,214 individuals between 2011 and 2012, including 4,084 children under age 18, according to the N.C. Council for Women.
“The most important thing you can do for a child that discloses sexual assault is to let them know you believe them and that you will do whatever you can to help them,” said Whitney Kelbaugh, a panelist and social worker with the Johnston County schools. She added, “No matter the circumstances of the assault, it’s not (their) fault.”
Clayton resident Greg Richardson, one of nearly 30 people who attended the forum, told panelists that he’s tired of talking about the issue in closed circles. He wants to take the movement to the community.
“If you mentioned sexual violence or sexual assault, you can hear a pin drop,” Richardson said. “Why don’t we have parades or scream the word out that this is sexual assault and this is sexual violence, because it is really a hush-hush thing.”