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Sexual assault has escalated on college campuses nationally, increasing at UCF by almost 30 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to the UCF Police Department's Uniform Crime Report.

Despite these growing numbers, a large percentage of incidents still go unreported. For many victims, the impact of a sexual assault can cause a feeling of isolation or embarrassment, but knowing how to deal with the case on and off campus can alleviate some of the trauma.

Maria Beckman, director of UCF's Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action program, said students should seek help according to the jurisdiction where the assault occurred.

"UCF PD has jurisdiction when assault happens on UCF property. OCSO has jurisdiction when the assault occurs in Orange County outside of Orlando city limits," said Beckman, EO/AA Title IX coordinator. "If a student is assaulted off campus, he or she should contact the police department that has jurisdiction and UCF Victim Services."

Beckman said that UCF's Victim Services is not limited to a jurisdiction, so victim advocates are well informed of resources that can help victims navigate through the legal process.

"Advocates can provide crisis counseling and emotional support along with other resources as needed," she said. "Advocates can help victims explore their rights and options and provide information about the civil, university and criminal justice systems so that victims can make informed decisions about what's best for them."

Campus statistics and organizations usually only report sexual violent crimes that take place in the vicinity of that campus, but if a student is assaulted off campus, they may not be aware of where the 911 call may lead to.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network statistics, 80 percent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 30, but 68 percent of sexual assault cases are not reported to the police.

Jessica Mueller, a victim advocate of the Victim Service Center of Orlando, said once the 911 call is placed, the police will take down details of the assault. The case will then be forwarded to a sex-crime detective, and if the assault happened in the last five days, the victim will be asked to take a physical exam, known as a rape kit, so detectives can collect DNA evidence. The clothing the victim was assaulted in will also be collected for evidence.

"During that process, the victim will be taken to a private vicinity and offered medications to prevent STD, pregnancy and crisis counseling. They can also receive help to apply for an injunction," said Mueller, a certified sexual assault counselor. If safety is a concern for the victim, she said he or she can receive help obtaining safe shelter.

At the Victim Service Center of Orlando — similar to UCF's Victim Services — certified crisis counselors can help a victim in confidentiality through financial hardships, and provide ongoing counseling, legal advice and therapy for the victim.

Mueller said students sometimes feel more comfortable seeking help off campus because they're more likely to come into contact with their offender on campus. And she added that students can still provide protection for their peers outside of campus by intervening on a threatening situation, or through bystander intervention.

"People can do a good job to watch out for other victims," she said. "They can offer to drive that person home, call 911 and stay with them until police arrives."

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Shanae Hardy is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Email her at ShanaeH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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