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New sexual assault crisis facility to open in south Hillsborough County

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay plans to expand its services to south county residents next year.
Kameela George, an intervention specialist at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, answers calls to 211 during the COVID-19 crisis in April 2020. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay plans to open a rape crisis facility in south Hillsborough County in August 2022 to expand access to sexual assault services there.
Kameela George, an intervention specialist at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, answers calls to 211 during the COVID-19 crisis in April 2020. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay plans to open a rape crisis facility in south Hillsborough County in August 2022 to expand access to sexual assault services there. [ The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay ]
Published Dec. 16, 2021|Updated Dec. 18, 2021

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay plans to open Hillsborough’s second rape crisis facility in August 2022, expanding access to sexual assault services to the rapidly growing south side of the county.

The county’s only certified rape crisis center currently offers 24/7 sexual assault services at its main facility off E Bearss Avenue and N Florida Avenue in Tampa. An advocate and forensics nurse can help victims process their trauma and conduct a rape exam.

The new facility, which will be located in the Southshore Community Resource Center at 201 14th Ave. SE in Ruskin, will offer the same services. The expansion is intended to make sexual assault recovery and education more accessible to residents in Brandon, Riverview and the rest of south Hillsborough, said Crisis Center president and CEO Clara Reynolds.

“I’m very hopeful,” Reynolds said. “We will be there for the long haul and become part of the DNA of the south county community.”

Related: Pinellas center for domestic violence survivors to open in October 2022

Reynolds said the decision to open the new facility resulted from conversations with Sheriff Chad Chronister and county commissioners about the need for sexual assault services in south county.

The Crisis Center’s current North Tampa location administers about 360 rape exams a year, but less than 3 percent of the victims served last year were from south Hillsborough. Reynolds attributes the low statistic in part to the long distance, lack of transportation, and lack of awareness about the facility’s services.

Sexual assault victims can access services by calling 211, 911, Reynolds said, or by walking into the facility. A trained nurse will conduct a sexual assault forensic exam, collecting DNA evidence from the victim’s body, clothing and personal property.

The DNA can be used to help identify the perpetrator and is kept onsite for about a year while the victim decides whether to report the assault to law enforcement.

Related: Pinellas domestic violence survivor helps lead other women to freedom

For victims under the age of 18, the provider is legally obligated to contact the police. Those under the age of 13 can seek help at Mary Lee’s House, the county’s child advocacy and protection center, which offers legal, medical and mental health services.

The rape exam typically takes four to six hours, Reynold said. An advocate will be onsite to support the victim and connect them to community resources, including trauma therapy at the new Ruskin facility. A bilingual staff member will be available for victims who prefer to communicate in Spanish.

Reynolds said the Crisis Center also plans to work with schools and community organizations to expand sexual violence awareness in south Hillsborough. Only 30 percent of sexual assaults are reported, she said, largely due to stigma and a lack of awareness.

“Sexual assault is unfortunately still taboo … " Reynolds said. “I look forward to the opportunity to educate our high school students, Hillsborough County schools partners, and our elderly communities.”

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How to get help

If you are the victim of a sexual assault, call 911. Rape crisis centers are legally and ethically required to protect confidentiality.

Hillsborough County: If you need support, assistance or an exam, contact the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay’s 24/7 Sexual Assault Services by calling 211 or visiting www.crisiscenter.com. Appointments at these facilities can be scheduled by calling 211 or 813-264-9961:

  • The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, 1 Crisis Center Plaza, Tampa.
  • Mary Lee’s House, 2806 N Armenia Ave., Tampa.
  • Corbett Trauma Center, 1106 Nikki View Drive, Brandon.

Pasco County: For help and support, contact Sunrise of Pasco County at 1-888-668-7273 or 352-521-3120, or go online at www.sunrisepasco.org. Call 352-567-1681 to schedule appointments at:

  • Sunrise Outreach East, 12720 Smith Road, Dade City.

Pinellas County: If you need support, assistance or an exam, call the Suncoast Center at 727-530-7273 or go online at www.suncoastcenter.org. Advocacy and forensic services are available at:

  • Suncoast Center, 2960 Roosevelt Blvd., Clearwater.
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