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By Robbie Owens

NORTH TEXAS (CBS11) – The avalanche of sexual assault and harassment allegations rocking the nation is perhaps having an impact in North Texas.  Calls to local rape crisis centers are up and those who run them don’t believe it’s a coincidence.

“It’s been huge,” says Wendy Hanna, Executive Director of The Turning Point, Collin County’s Rape Crisis Center. “Our hotline calls have gone up 30 percent since the same time last year.”

The widening web of sex assault scandals has snared some of the nation’s most powerful. Now, as more accusers step out of the shadows, local experts like Hanna say such behavior is far more common than even the headlines suggest.

“Even people in this office, myself included were, we’re like, that’s happened to me,” says Hanna, who worked as a social worker early in her career. She recalled a recent gathering of women and says the discussion soon turned to the #MeToo campaign. “I have not been the victim of a horrible assault. But, the dialogue changed… I can’t think of one women in that group that didn’t have an experience to tell.”

Hanna says she applauds every effort to remove the stigma attached to sexual assault.

“You wouldn’t hide yourself if you were robbed. You wouldn’t be afraid to go forward to the police if your house was broken into, so why do we send the message that they can’t go forward and be believed by our local law enforcement, or DA’s office, or even their friends and their family?”

The Turning Point has stepped up volunteer recruitment efforts and even added volunteer counselors to help with the extra demand. “We’ve added groups so those that are on a wait list can choose to join a support group while they’re waiting to be seen.” Hanna says clients aren’t asked ‘why’ they have chosen to come forward– what’s important is that they do.

“They finally feel like they can come forward and say something and there’s people that are going to believe them, now.”

April Mitchell, CEO of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, calls the willingness of survivors to speak out a “culture shift” and one that is long overdue.

“It’s very impactful to know you’re heard,” says Mitchell. “It’s very impactful psychologically as you’re healing to know that people care about what’s happening to you.”

Advocates hope the conversations continue, but are also bracing for a possible backlash.

“There are going to be a lot more naysayers because more people are going to start coming out and they’re gonna say, `okay, now, is this real? It is real?'” says Hanna. “It is just that prevalent, I believe, and I think we have to just start believing them and let them heal from this.”

Both agencies offer services for free and are also in need of volunteers to help meet the growing demand.

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