ELMIRA, N.Y. (18 NEWS) - A victim of sexual assault might not know where to turn after the crime happens often leading to more physical and emotional pain.
18 News sat down with a survivor who shared her story. She talks about the long legal process and how a free resource in the community helped her every step of the way.
Her name has been changed for privacy concerns.
It was like any other Saturday night out with friends in October of 2016. After a couple of drinks, Beth decided to not drive home and slept at her friend's house on the living room couch.
"I woke up on Sunday morning, probably a little before 7, and realized he was touching me," Beth said.
A man her friend was renting to in the home - and who wasn't out with them the night before - was digitally penetrating her with his left hand while masturbating with his right.
She kicked him off and ran up the stairs to wake up her friends, but at that moment it was fight or flight so she fled the house. She doesn't remember getting to her car or driving home to her husband.
By the time her friends woke up, their tenant also fled the house, leaving behind his belongings.
Beth's husband, who didn't go out with them the night before because he had work the next day, was angry. This would later lead to issues in their marriage.
"I was feeling like I did something wrong," Beth said. "I was feeling like it was my fault that it happened. I was feeling that I deserved it because I went out."
The next day at work, Beth could not concentrate. Unsure if what happened to her was a crime or if anyone would believe her, she Googled 'What do you do when you're sexually assaulted in Chemung County?'
That's when she discovered the Sexual Assault Resource Center with Planned Parenthood, a free program specializing in these situations. After calling, they advised her to get a rape kit done at the hospital which is something trained professionals use on victims to collect evidence aiding in the legal process. SARC also paired her with an advocate.
"Elisha came with me," Beth cried. "She's my hero because I didn't know how to do any of this."
Elisha Wolfer, an advocate and program director at SARC, says her career is gratifying.
"This job is about being able to help people and knowing at the end of the day that no victim of sexual assault has had to go through this alone," Wolfer said.
Wolfer would then not only stand by Beth's side at the hospital, but up until the next year, every step of the way.
Maureen Kelly, the vice president of programming and communications with Planned Parenthood, explains how.
"Our counselor advocates are available to accompany someone through that process from the beginning to the end because that can be fairly traumatic and something where folks need a lot of support and a lot of resources with caring professionals."
About a week later, Beth finally told her friends what she was going through.
"The worst part about telling everybody was hearing so many of my female friends say, 'It happened to me and I didn't do anything,'" Beth said.
Additionally, it's a big reason why she sat down with 18 News to do this interview - to get more women to speak up.
When she reported the crime to police, Wolfer was there with her too. Police asked if Beth had encouraged his behavior. She reinforced that she was sleeping and that anything other than a "yes" is a "no."
Law enforcement had a hard time locating the man because he actually went by another name, but eventually found out he's the son of a former Elmira police detective.
After locating him, Beth said she was told by police that he was uncooperative, but she had to call numerous times to find that out. That's yet another reason why she's speaking up - to let other women know, who are going through the same thing, to not feel discouraged, and that it's up to you to constantly follow up to find out more about your case. Your advocate will help in this process too.
Fast forward to that December and the suspect was arrested. A trial was set for April. Beth's husband did not want to go to court and was only planning on it under threaten of subpoena. Beth said she wanted her husband to care and for him to believe this wasn't her fault.
Just before the trial, the suspect pleaded guilty. This didn't mean it was over yet, though. It took four tries for sentencing to take place because of his unwillingness to cooperate. Wolfer was still standing strong by Beth's side accompanying her in court.
He was finally sentenced though, one year from the assault, to six years probation and later having to register as a level one sex offender.
Beth wants people to know that SARC helped her tremendously throughout this time and that it can help anyone else despite what stage they're in and how long ago the crime took place.
"We have a 24-hour hotline which means you can call literally any time," Kelly said. "We're there for you whether that means resources on the phone in support and making an appointment to meet in person at a later point or it might mean that at that moment in time someone needs to be accompanied to the hospital for evidence collection with a rape kit."
The organization even helped her apply to New York State's Office of Victim Services to get reimbursed for all the work she missed as a result of the crime.
Beth and her husband attend counseling to repair their marriage and she strongly encourages couples who have been through this as well to also seek professional help as it can do wonders for the healing process.
She adds although you can't stop assault from happening, you can control what you do after. She later learned that someone she knew had also been assaulted by the same man in the same place. The woman told Beth she felt guilty because had she told someone, it might've prevented him from acting again.
"I had been there that day," Beth said. "We had a ladies brunch on a Sunday and I had gone home around 2 or 3 (PM) and she had stayed and she apparently had some wine and dozed off and woke up and he was trying to get up her skirt. The moral of the story is speak up because you don't know who you might save."
If you're a victim of a sexual assault crime, you can contact SARC at (888) 810-0093 for free guidance and support.
The hotline isn't just for victims. It's also for friends or family of victims who are having a hard time seeing their loved go through this difficult process.
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