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Roanoke agency looks to raise awareness about sexual assault resources

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - Sexual assault cases in parts of Southwest Virginia continue to rise.

Agencies in both Roanoke and Danville said their numbers have steadily increased over the years and staff at Sexual Assault Response and Awareness (SARA) hope to raise awareness about efforts to help sexual assault victims.

"A place of recovery and healing and a place where people can feel empowered and begin their journey for recovery after experiencing sexual violence," said SARA Executive Director Teresa Berry.

Berry said the agency has seen a steady rise in cases over the years, which is partly due to increased awareness.

"Awareness of services and resources," she said. "I think people recognizing and realizing that I am not to blame, it's not my fault."

Berry said stories of sexual violence have made national headlines and drawn much-needed attention to the issue as well as the need for more money to help.

"It's finally recognition that domestic violence and sexual violence services had been under-funded for years," she said.

Berry said staff at SARA recently saw its funding from the Department of Criminal Justice jump 168 percent to $281,000. Berry said the money will be used for direct services and pay for two staff positions.

In addition to increasing its staff, SARA plans to expand its facility. This week, construction begins on an additional office and a bigger training room. With increased resources, staff hope more sexual assault victims will know that there's a safe place to go for help

In the New River Valley, the Women's Resource Center said sexual assault cases are down compared to last year, but concerns remain. Staff at the resource center said, in fiscal year 2016, they saw 265 adult cases and 142 cases involving children including sexual assault and domestic violence cases. Staff said they recently added staff which allows the agency to have enough staff to help people navigate the court system and better help under-served populations such as the LGBT community.