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Lancaster County officials discuss facing sexual assault cases

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LANCASTER, P.A. --- In light of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse accusations,the issue of sexual assault is on the country's front burner.

Lisa Cameron, YWCA Lancaster Director of Counseling and Empowerment Services, said the nature of these accusations is an all too familiar feeling.

"We're not surprised. We work with victims on a daily basis," said Cameron.

This isn't the first time Cameron has seen sexual abuse take the national spotlight.

She said the Weinstein allegations hit closer to home, comparing it to the 2012 trial of former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.

"Leading up to the court hearing, we didn't hear much from the community. After Jerry Sandusky was found guilty, we had a huge uptick in the amount of people that we served," said Cameron.

As the county's designated rape crisis center, Cameron said they generally serves between 25-30 clients a week, while gaining 40-50 new clients each month.

In 2016, 700 people received counseling from them.

This year, Cameron says they've seen more people, with the annual total moving closer to 800 people.

"That has fluctuated over the course of five years it's been around between 700 and 1,000 people that we serve on a daily basis," said Cameron.

Cameron said they've added extra staff in their counseling center to prepare for the potential of a similar swing.

"But I think our community, victim survivors in our community, are waiting to see what legal ramifications are going to happen before they make that next step," said Cameron.

Cameron credits a sense of validation among victim when legal ramifications take place.

"For people to say, okay, I feel safe enough or I feel secure enough to now share my story," said Cameron.

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said there’s been strides made in prosecuting sexual abuses cases, thanks to addition resources from law enforcement and Lancaster Health.

He said prosecutors have two responsibilities: proving the victim right and disproving the perpetrator.

"You don't ever want to charge somebody with something like that, something as volatile as that and then end up saying oh we're going to drop the charges because we don't have the proof," said Stedman.

When it comes to hurdles such as memory loss and biological evidence, Stedman said the timing of the report is everything.

"It presents a much greater series of challenges for us to try and prove the longer it goes before a case is reported," said Stedman.

In light of the Weinstein accusations, "#MeToo" serves as a thread for victims to share their personal stories through social media.

Cameron said that outlet can serve as a powerful tool to gain a sense of comfort for survivors.

"There's a solidarity that happens that victim survivors find that there are other people that have experienced something similar and I think there's safety in numbers with that," said Cameron.

While the country has their eyes on the subject, Cameron said she hopes it can bring more attention to help at home

"While there's a national splash for sexual violence, I think our community should also be focused right here on the local level," said Cameron.

If you or someone you know needs help, Cameron said to call their number at (717) 393-1735, extension 225.