PARIS – Gov. John Baldacci has appointed the executive director of a local rape crisis center to a state commission that tackles domestic and sexual abuse.

Shari Smith of Paris, who has worked at the Rape Education And Crisis Hotline in Paris since 1997 and has been its director for four years, attended her first meeting with the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse on Oct. 19.

She said that her appointment will be a useful link between state and local efforts against assault. “We can bring what we see in our communities to the state level, so we can make changes and come back to the community and strengthen our work here.”

Elizabeth Ward Saxl, co-chair of the 34-member commission, said Tuesday, “I think Shari has always provided a great voice on behalf of sexual assault survivors, and I think that is a really important voice to have at the statewide level.”

The 15-year-old commission is an interdisciplinary organization involving law enforcement officials, social workers and representatives from state departments, such as education and labor. The members are appointed by the governor for one-year terms and advise the executive, legislative and judicial branches on sexual and domestic assault policy.

Smith, 42, grew up in Paris and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Farmington. She worked as a nursing assistant before moving into social services about a decade ago. She said that since becoming involved with REACH, she has seen people coming forward sooner to report attacks.

“One of the trends is people are coming forward earlier after an assault, and they are also younger, young women. Whereas before, we would see people years after the incident,” she said.

More education in schools about sexual assault is partially behind this trend, she said. The stigma of being raped is also being dispelled by advocacy and education.

“People are going away with, This isn’t my fault.’ There is always the element of self-blame, but it is not that strong,” she said.

In the years ahead, Smith said she hopes to see this attitude strengthened, as well as stronger offender accountability.

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