Local News

Triangle agencies report jump in sexual harassment victims seeking help

Posted December 7, 2017 5:54 p.m. EST
Updated July 12, 2018 2:13 p.m. EDT

— The conversation about sexual harassment continues, and just this week, several local agencies from the Triangle jointly announced that the number of victims seeking help has increased amid resignations by powerful men in media, entertainment and politics over inappropriate behavior.

More people are calling the crisis hotline at Interact in Raleigh, and workers say they are also seeing more victims walking in for services – about a 90 percent increase in two months.

The high-profile cases in Hollywood and on Capitol Hill appear to be giving victims across the country the courage they need to speak out.

"This is an issue that's been happening since the dawn of time, and the fact that we are now hearing more about it and having these conversations, I think, is a good thing," said Stephanie Francis, the clinical education supervisor at Interact. "It will allow us to hopefully to make some change."

Advocates say change begins by allowing victims to tell their story without fear and judgment.

"The prevalence may not have changed, which I'm not sure that it has (because) sexual assault (and) sexual harassment have always happened. But I think the voices coming forward have definitely increased," said Monika Johnson-Hostler, director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

At least 20 years ago, Shirrell Thomas says, she lost her job running a nonprofit after she criticized a high-profile board member for making sexual comments about a co-worker.

“I lost my job because I called him out," she said. "So, it’s not just people physically touching you, it’s people that will use their power and control to pretty much destroy your life."

Now, Thomas works for the Durham Crisis Response Center as an outreach coordinator, and she applauds victims coming forward.

Said Thomas: "I just think its wonderful, because I understand there is always a fear."

Reports of sex crimes from around the Triangle are up, local law enforcement agencies say. In October and November, Raleigh police logged 89 reports of sex offenses, and 402 have been reported for the year. For the same two-month period in 2016, there were just 55 reports, and 53 in 2015.

Victim advocates say people speaking up can help solve the issue.

"If we want a real systemic change (and) a real cultural change, we have to be having these conversations," Francis said.