Victim advocates concerned over rise in Osceola County rape cases

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OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - About 200 calls a month come into the Victim Service Center Of Central Florida, according to officials with the organization. Now the agency is paying close attention to a disturbing trend in Osceola County, where the number of reported rapes jumped dramatically last year.
 
Jessica Mueller said the toughest part of her job begins with a phone call.
 
"Sometimes they're crying. Sometimes they're so scared they can barely talk," Mueller said, talking about rape victims who contact her agency.
 
Mueller is one of six advocates at the Victim Service Center of Central Florida, where there is someone on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to respond to victims of sexual assault.
 
The agency is working hard to push its services in Osceola County. 
 
New numbers released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show that there were 94 rapes reported in Osceola County in 2013. There were 76 reported in the county in 2012. That's a 23 percent increase, compared to a 5 percent increase in Orange County during the same period.
 
"'Wow,' I think was the initial reaction," said Lui Damiani, executive director of the Victim Service Center of Central Florida.
 
Damiani said there isn't one clear reason for the increase in reported cases, but it does coincide with his agency's increased outreach in the county, where he believes rapes went underreported for far too long.
 
"People don't want to talk about it; they don't want to know about it until it happens to them.  Fact of the matter is, 1 in 5 is going to experience this at some point in their lives," said Damiani.
 
Damiani is working to get a full-time Spanish-speaking advocate for Osceola County, where 47 percent of the population is Hispanic.
 
There are partnerships with law enforcement and outreach to remind the community that advocates like Mueller are waiting by the phone.
 
"Sometimes it's hard to watch people at their lowest point. But it's always rewarding to watch them come out the other end," said Mueller.