• Victim Service Center sees uptick in rape cases in Orange, Osceola counties

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    ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Workers at the Victim Service Center said they’ve been a dramatic spike in suspected rape cases in the past week in Orange and Osceola counties.

    Now they’re warning women to keep a close eye on their surroundings, especially as people head out for Halloween festivities.

    The number of cases has also increased over the past year and advocates want to make sure that other people don’t get added to those numbers.

    They said most of the victims in recent cases were alone at night.

    Typically, the Victim Service Center averaged about five suspected rape cases a week. This week, they’ve recorded 10.

    “It is really scary to hear. I believe people just get too complacent and comfortable, especially with the downtown vibe,” said Orlando resident Bethany Sullivan.

    Advocates said several recent cases involved suspects who were strangers to the victims.

    “We want everybody to know what their best, personal safety plan is. We are never going to blame the victim. Rapists shouldn’t rape. But people should be aware of general safety considerations,” said Victim Services Program Director JoEllen Reyell.

    The center often performs forensic exams when a sexual assault victim comes forward.

    The total number of exams for Orange and Osceola counties has jumped by about 16 percent over the past year.

    Advocates are especially concerned about holidays, when numbers tend to rise.

    “Sometimes, when people are out and having fun, they may forget to think about their personal safety, perhaps if they’re enjoying some adult beverages,” said Reyell.

    She believes the spike may be connected to a greater awareness of ways victims can get help.

    The numbers don’t appear to be connected to any one location, a reminder, Reyell says, that rape can happen anywhere.

    The number of forensic exams doesn’t necessarily correspond to the number of assaults that are prosecuted.

    Victims aren’t required to report the incident to police in order to have the exam.

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