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Seminar teaches about helping victims of sexual assault
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Rape Response

Main number and crisis line: 770-503-7273
Outside Hall County: 800-721-1999

Lisa Wiley, a nurse at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, has the emotional job of being the first person a victim talks with after a sexual assault.

"You realize it's very traumatic and you have a mindset of ‘What can I do to help?,'" she said. "You need to keep attuned to what you are there for."

Wiley was among more than 150 advocates and professionals who met Friday in Oakwood for a seminar to advance their skills at helping victims of sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It was a way for agencies to learn and share strategies and insights, Wiley said.

"This keeps everyone up-to-date on new interventions and gives us an idea of what everyone else is doing," she said.

Outside of the seminar, Jeanne Buffington, executive director of Rape Response Inc., said agencies often collaborate in sexual assault cases. When a victim arrives at the hospital, law enforcement and a Rape Response volunteer are on scene.

The nonprofit provides counselling, shelter and clothing for a person to wear home from the hospital.

"To provide this education to so many professionals is really helpful," Buffington said. "Sexual assault is far more common than people think."

Last year, Rape Response, which serves Hall, Habersham, Lumpkin, Dawson and White counties, offered support to about 450 victims, Buffington said.

Wiley said the emergency room at Northeast Georgia Medical Center sees about six to eight victims of sexual assault each month.

"Most people don't think it's a problem in their community," Buffington said.

At the seminar, Amy House, an associate professor at the Medical College of Georgia, said the way people experience trauma can vary. The sight of headlights after a life-threatening car accident, for example, could trigger
a response.

She said sexual assaults often induce more trauma than natural disasters because of malicious intent. About 80 percent of sexual assaults are date rape, or an assault by an acquaintance.

"The thing is, this is treatable," House said.

Some treatments deal with cognitive processing therapies, which involve helping the patient process the memory in a way that helps them move forward. Certain victims can blame themselves or feel unsafe, beliefs that can interfere with functioning in daily life, House said.

She said she's noticed a disconnect between academics and those serving in the community, and seminars can help fill that gap.

"This gets the information out there about what the research shows and what works on the front lines," House said.

Friday's participants included social workers, psychologists, licensed counselors, law enforcement officers and health care or nonprofit agency managers.

Rape Response has been offering professional development seminars since 2003.