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Keeping quiet about life-changing assault

"If you ever tell, this is what I will do to your family," said a man to a frightened girl after he shot and killed her kitten in front of her.

That threat was to keep the girl quiet about the sexual abuse she was enduring.

"This particular person was sexually molested from the time she was a young child into early adulthood by a family member," said Darianne Johnson from the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center in Dickinson.

Johnson helped the girl get help when she came to the center as an adult about 16 years ago.

"She repressed all of these memories until she, as an early adult, got into a relationship that became abusive," Johnson said.

Johnson said there's no way to tell how anyone will react to something as traumatic as sexual assault, but it tends to turn a person's life upside down.

There have been 40 reports of suspected sexual abuse of children in the last 12 months in Stark County, said Larry Bernhardt, director of Stark County Social Services.

Thirty sex-related crimes were reported to police in 2008 and 45 were reported in 2007, according to Dickinson Police Department stats.

Those numbers include indecent exposure, sexual assault and other sex-related acts, including those involving children, said DPD Lt. Rod Banyai.

The Crisis Center took on 20 new cases in 2007 and 17 in 2008.

The police department has made one arrest this year and there have been at least four sex-related crimes reported, Banyai said.

"We're anticipating that two arrests might come shortly out of those offenses," he said.

One arrest was made in 2008 and 12 arrests were made in 2007 for sex-related crimes in Dickinson.

Gloria Fichter-Rau, from the Crisis Center, said victims often say, "He keeps getting away with it."

Sometimes victims change their stories, drop charges out of fear, or decide the pressure of getting someone convicted is too much.

"When you report (a rape), what happens to your life is just unbelievable," Johnson said. "You have to relive over and over again what happened to you."

Fichter-Rau added victims may be scared that going to police will make their situation worse. They may fear their abuser will attack again or hurt their family.

Four of the 17 victims who went to the Crisis Center in 2008 reported the sexual assault to police. Ten of those who went to the shelter in 2007 reported the assaults.

Banyai, Johnson, and Fichter-Rau agree there are several women in the area that will never go to police or the Crisis Center.

None of those who came to the shelter in 2008 were raped by a stranger. One who came to the shelter in 2007 was raped by a stranger.

The Crisis Center doesn't work with children, as they are referred to Social Services. However, Johnson said they often have adults come to the shelter to get help for sexual abuse that occurred years before. She added people rarely come to the shelter right after a sexual assault.

The little girl who survived sexual assault believed her family would have been shot if she had told anyone about what she was going through. She is still dealing with what happened to her.

"She is surviving, but she has lost a lot of things in her life and will never have a lot of things in her life because of what happened to her," Johnson said.

The center helps male and female victims.

-- The victim in the story did not wish to speak with The press and wished to remain anonymous. However, she gave Johnson permission to tell her story. Information disclosed to the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center is confidential.