Ivonne Zucco is hopeful.
At a press conference on Wednesday kicking off Sexual Assault Awareness Month at Stamford's Government Center, she said that although "about 33 percent of residents in Connecticut say that they have had an issue of sexual assault in their life," she is certain that times are changing.
Zucco, executive director of The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education, is optimistic even though rape remains the most underreported crime in the US.
Despite Zucco's optimism, the statistics are disturbing. According to The Center's website, one in every seven victims of sexual assault is under the age of six.
During the press conference, Stamford's Mayor Michael Pavia read a proclamation listing several startling statistics, including that one in every three girls and one of every six boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18.
Still, Zucco said perpetrators are being punished and the topic is benefitting from increased awareness. She said that staff from The Center visit schools with age-appropriate presentations and teens are open to speaking about the topic.
Zucco's hope is to change the culture of sexual assault, eliminate shame among victims in future generations, and change culture so victims are no longer blamed.
According to former board member and longtime supporter of The Center, Dudley Williams, "For victims, sexual assault is a hideous crime...often with a very lonely recovery." He added that for many victims who don't have family or relatives available, The Center is their only support.
Assistant State's Attorney Michelle Manning spoke about prosecuting sexual assault cases. The process, said Manning, "starts with a disclosure, and that can come any time, any where and any place from a child and all it takes is for one person to be aware and be open with a discussion or to listen...and call DCF or the police and then The Center gets involved."
Manning said that because of the collaboration of The Center, DCF and police, a child or adolescent no longer has to repeat their traumatic story over and over. She explained that when she meets with a victim and their family about prosecuting a case, she often asks for The Center to send someone over to support the victim and acknowledged The Center's unfailing willingness to help.
Manning said that especially in cases of adolescent victims, cases can take take months if not years to dispose of, and "to testify in front of a jury, in front of the judge and in front of the defendent, can be very traumatic. To have the support from The Center, or a victim's advocate...from the beginning can help significantly ... and as a prosectutor, that can help my case."
According to Manning, when a member of the community becomes aware of "a disclosure," that should trigger an immediate reaction. Otherwise, she explained, "We seen victims turn to drugs and alcohol, and act out in sexually inappropriate behavior...Or the child stops going to school." She encourages members of the community to call The Center and see what help is available.
Norwalk's Mayor Moccia commended the state's attorneys for their good work. He mentioned that his step-daughter is a state's attorney in Norwalk and that he hears from her about the difficulties of prosecuting sexual assault cases.
Zucco indicated that in the past two years the percentage of clients of The Center who are Latinos has risen from 24% to 40%.
The Center offers free, confidential, bilingual services for all victims of sexual abuse in Lower Fairfield County, 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
Toll-free, English telephone: 888-999-5545; toll-free Spanish telephone: 888-568-8332.