Officials: Number of sexual assault cases up from last year during peak season

Summer Sexual Assaults

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - July is considered the peak period of the Grand Strand’s tourist season.

Officials with the Rape Crisis Center of Horry County, however, say it’s also the peak time for sexual assaults.

Recently, police have responded to calls for sexual assault that happened along sections of Grand Strand beaches.

“People come to Myrtle Beach and have a great time, but sometimes they just forget that things can happen, and so with that being said, we want to make sure that everyone, not only the people that visit Myrtle Beach, but those who live here year-round, we want them all to be safe,” said Bevelyn Mitchell, outreach and awareness coordinator for Rape Crisis Center of Horry County.

Mitchell said in June, the center responded to eight crisis calls at the hospital. So far in July, they’ve already responded to five calls.

Horry County police say the number of sexual assault cases so far this summer is up from last year. In 2018, from the start of summer to the first week of July, there were eight sexual assault cases. This year, that number is up to 12 for the same time period.

“I just think that parents should talk to their children, grandchildren when they visit the beach here or when they’re just out with friends. Just be vigilant about what’s going on around you because we see a lot of it here,” said Mitchell.

Over the years, Mitchell said they’ve seen an increase and that’s because every year during the summer months, the Grand Strand welcomes more visitors and hosts more events. She added it’s typically a time where there’s more substance abuse, noting that the No. 1 source of date rape is alcohol.

Recently, Mitchell said technology has played a large role in sexual assaults.

Although it can be useful in an emergency, social media gives predators another tool to seek out their next victim. With a majority of people on summer vacation, they tend to feel more carefree. Mitchell wants to remind them they can still enjoy their time on vacation while also being vigilant.

“If you’re traveling with someone or if you’re with a friend, stay with that friend," she said. "Try very hard not to leave them alone and if somebody is having an excess of alcohol intake, just being vigilant, watch your drinks, don’t put those drinks down, because we have found that there is an uptick also in the cases where people are victimized because of people dropping stuff in their drinks. So, they need to be careful with it too. If you see something, say something.”

The Rape Crisis Center is also noticing an uptick in human trafficking. Tina Toth, a sexual assault counselor, saud she believes more people are speaking out because of cultural consciousness, noting the dialogue sparked through the “Me Too” movement.

One of the main things Toth wants everyone to know is it’s not the victim’s fault, but it’s important to know how to protect yourself.

“Some of this goes back to the stuff we learned in kindergarten: using the buddy system, having accountability for where you’re going to be, who you’re going to be with, when you’re expected back, communicating that information with others. Not to take away personal independence and freedom, but to have that accountability in place so somebody knows that, hey, something could be wrong here and that they take the initiative to follow up and see what what’s going on with that individual,” said Toth.

Toth also stresses the importance of victims seeking medical attention, as sexual assault could result in sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy. Ultimately, she hopes with the change in times and culture, more people will break the silence, speak out and seek help.

“It’s OK to talk about it - know that now more than ever - and hopefully we will continue to get more and more comfortable as a culture and as a community talking about this issue. Please feel free to talk about it. There are safe places and safe people to talk to," Toth said.

The Rape Crisis Center’s 24-hour crisis hotline is (843) 448-7273.

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