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Crisis Center of Tampa Bay expands sexual assault services in south Hillsborough

Survivors of sexual assault can meet with nurses certified in conducting medical exams to gather evidence of the attack. Advocates are also available to help with emotional support and other resources.
Crisis Center of Tampa Bay
Survivors of sexual assault can meet with nurses certified in conducting medical exams to gather evidence of the attack. Advocates are also available to help with emotional support and other resources.

A center has opened a location in Ruskin. Previously, residents in the are would have to travel to a location about an hour away - if they have a car. Officials say the distance likely kept some from seeking help.

If you or someone you know experienced sexual assault you can call the Crisis Center at 211.

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay is opening a new sexual assault services location in Ruskin. The goal is to expand access to support for residents in southeast Hillsborough County.

Survivors of sexual assault can come to the center to get free medical exams, often called “rape kits,” along with emotional support and help with legal and financial issues.

“We want to make sure that that individual recognizes that they're not alone, that this was a crime that happened to them – there is nothing they did that warranted this attack happening to them,” said Clara Reynolds, CEO of the Crisis Center. “Then we want to make sure, medically, that they're taken care of; that they've got a nurse who specializes – who is certified to be able to provide that head-to-toe exam.”

Until now, the only certified rape crisis center in Hillsborough was at the organization’s main location in North Tampa, which is just under an hour from Ruskin without traffic – if the person has access to a car.

Reynolds said staff tested out how long it would take on public transportation and found it was a three-hour journey. That’s a significant barrier, especially considering the exam itself can take several hours.

“You can't expect somebody to do this, particularly people who have families, who have jobs, who don't want to disclose what's going on,” said Reynolds.

Last year, just 15% of the 334 forensic exams the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay conducted for assault survivors at the North Tampa location were for South Hillsborough residents.

Reynolds hopes with the facility in Ruskin, staff will be able to reach more people in those communities, some of which have seen a lot of growth in recent years.

Crisis Center officials hosted an event at the Ruskin center on Friday ahead of its official launch this week. They were joined by several county officials Reynolds credits with identifying a need for the expansion and aiding in its development, including Sheriff Chad Chronister, County Commissioner Harry Cohen and Clerk of Court Cindy Stuart.

The facility is located within the county’s Southshore Community Resource Center, 201 14th Ave. S.E., Ruskin.

According to Crisis Center marketing director Ken Gibson, it cost $250,000 to open, with funds coming from Hillsborough County, Florida Medical Clinic Foundation of Caring, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Suncoast Credit Union Foundation, the Office of the Attorney General (VOCA), Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV) and private donors.

Staff are doing community outreach to let residents know services in south Hillsborough will soon be available, said Reynolds.

Services are confidential and can be provided in English and Spanish. While staff are obligated to report if a minor has been assaulted, patients ages 18 and older can choose not to notify law enforcement.

"The moment they walk in the door, we want to empower them to take back that control that was taken from them, so we’ll ask for your consent every step of the way and provide you with options," said Reynolds.

Initially the center will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but officials say they plan to operate 24/7 within the next few months. They also hope to offer long-term trauma counseling at the site within the year.

In addition to its comprehensive sexual assault services location in North Tampa, the Crisis Center also offers advocacy services for survivors at Mary Lee’s House on Armenia Ave. in Tampa and at a location in Brandon.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.