Originally created 08/08/03

Group offers support to victims of assault



Thanks to a local organization, when rape occurs, victims are not left by themselves to deal with the hardships that follow.

But Augusta-based Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services needs more volunteers to be effective, an organizer said.

"When a victim or family member reports a rape, volunteers are usually the first responder, or that needed warm blanket," said Gayle McCabe, the agency's volunteer coordinator. "We're helping victims get through what can be a demeaning (questioning) process, often done in front of strangers."

Leslie Stegmaier and Melloney Charley-Whatley are dedicated volunteers.

"I feel like I'm contributing so much," said Mrs. Stegmai-er, who said she doesn't mind getting out of bed at a moment's notice to assist a victim. She has volunteered for five years.

Volunteers explain to patients how medical exams work, how evidence is collected and how to deal with police and other authorities during intense questioning, Mrs. Stegmaier said.

The group was formed in 1975 and provides emotional and legal support to sexual assault victims in the Augusta area. A 24-hour hot line is available to report crimes.

Mrs. Charley-Whatley began volunteering last year after moving from Norman, Okla., with her soldier husband. Her Martinez neighbor, Mrs. Stegmaier, influenced her decision to join the group.

"It's a small but important contribution," said Mrs. Charley-Whatley, a mother of four. Both women consider assisting child victims uniquely special.

"My heart goes out to them," Mrs. Stegmaier said.

Because children often choose not to immediately identify their attackers, the volunteers' role in quickly developing trust is crucial, Mrs. McCabe said.

According to the agency's 2002 statistics, of 346 reported rapes, 232 victims were age 15 and under.

The volunteers also take self-defense classes provided by the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. Investigator Stephanie Carani and her husband, Capt. Brett Carani, held a session at University Hospital.

"It's a confidence builder. We tell people what to look for" to avoid being victimized, Investigator Carani said. Volunteers learn ways to break away from wrist and neck holds, she said. They're taught to walk confidently, keep eye contact and greet people to help neutralize would-be attackers.

The volunteers address emergency room advocacy and learn how cases are investigated by law enforcement and in the courtroom.

HOW TO VOLUNTEER

WHAT: Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services

PURPOSE: Volunteers provide emotional and legal support to sexual assault victims

COST: Free

REQUIREMENTS: 25 training hours for certification

CONTACT: 774-2746

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.