RUMFORD – Police Chief Stacy Carter and Oxford County Rape Education and Crisis Hotline Executive Director Debbie Dembski this week voiced concerns over what they say is an alarming increase in violent crimes.

According to state crime totals for July 1, 2006, through June 30, 2007, there were 11 reported rapes in Rumford, seven aggravated assaults, and 53 domestic violence complaints.

That’s up from six reported rapes, two aggravated assaults, and 51 domestic violence complaints for the same time period in 2005-06.

“We’re trying to keep our heads above water in dealing with (rape complaints),” Carter said. “Generally, we’ve had a few, but I don’t know as if I’ve ever seen it as high as 11.”

Rumford police have two multiple-charge sex crimes cases pending in Oxford County Superior Court, another headed to the grand jury next week for indictments, and two more being investigated. This doesn’t include cold-case rape complaints police can’t get to due to the influx of newer crimes they must first investigate.

Dembski attributes the spike to education awareness in public schools regarding when to say no, and when to report violent crimes.

From October 2005 through September 2006, Oxford County REACH staff serviced 67 people. That jumped to 90 from October 2006 through September 2007. REACH workers also made 952 contacts last year with victims of sex crimes and domestic violence, compared to 416 the previous year.

“As the victims get treated in more sensitive and more timely ways, they’re more willing to come forward. Kids are also getting the message that if they talk, they will be helped. In the ’80s, we had a lot of calls from adult survivors. Now, we still have a lot of adults, but also kids who are getting the message that they have certain rights,” Dembski said.

According to REACH, children 12 to 17 account for approximately a third of all reported rapes, with teens 16 to 19 years old 3½ times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape or sexual assault.

Since the late 1980s, REACH has provided adolescent awareness and risk reduction programs in middle and high schools throughout Oxford County.

The agency has a pilot program under way in Maine that teaches young children about the three kinds of touches and how to detect child predators.

“We hope to get to all schools in our service area if we are allowed in. Prevention would be wonderful to maintain … It’s better to stop it in the first place. In the past, people were afraid to educate young kids. They were told to be on the lookout for strangers, but it’s not strangers abusing kids. Eighty percent of the time, it’s someone they know. So the prevention piece is very, very big,” Dembski said.

Proposed legislative cuts to handle a $95 million revenue shortfall could endanger REACH’s education programs.

“Our concern is that rape crisis centers across the state just received the money to go into schools and now that’s being cut. There’s no way we can maintain intervention with the cuts. Of the new money we received from the state, we were told that 25 percent is being cut this year and that’s projected to be 100 percent next year,” Dembski said.

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