GREEN COVE SPRINGS – For most of the time he talked on April 1, Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels read from a prepared proclamation. But what was said off-script made a more-profound statement.
“I’m sick and tired of guys putting their hands on females,” he said. “For those that can’t keep your hands off your significant others, your days are numbered. Guys, stop putting your hands on women. If you can’t, come to Clay County and we’ll talk about it like grown men.”
The sheriff was joined by the Special Victims Unit, advocates and representatives from the Quigley House to mark the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
There were 295 reported sexual assaults in Clay County last year, the sheriff’s office said. While some charges are dropped, the growing number of reported sexual and domestic assaults were a reason the county’s reported crime rate increased by five percent last year.
“The stats are somewhat up,” said sheriff spokesman Chris Padgett, “but in my opinion, it’s because we’ve brought education, resources and support to the forefront.”
Jennifer Rodriguez, Quigley House’s director of sexual assault service, agreed.
“I don’t think there’s more assaults,” she said. “It’s just a safer climate to come forward. Women aren’t as afraid. There was a time when women didn’t feel comfortable coming forward. Now, they know they have a place to go. This behavior isn’t acceptable.”
Daniels vowed to defend anyone who’s been victimized.
“In Clay County, we take a stance on crime,” he said. “Sexual assault and domestic violence, that’s a crime, too. And, we're just as firm and committed to preventing that crime just like any crime in Clay County. That’s a problem not only in Clay County, but across this country. When I grew up, men didn’t do that.”
Quigley House offers support in the county for teen dating violence, teen safety plans, sexual assaults and protection for the LBGT community. According to information provided by Quigley House, there are more than 20,000 calls placed every day to domestic violence hotlines nationally.
“To those victims, today, we want to tell you, you are not alone,” said Anna Martinez-Mullen, CEO of Quigley House. “We are here for you. We have advocates that are highly trained and specialized and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Actions define us, but most importantly, they shape the world around us. Speaking out against violence is necessary to end this epidemic and we ask you today to join us in ending violence in our community.”
Daniels’ proclamation read in part:
“We must work together to educate our community about sexual violence prevention, supporting survivors and speaking out against harmful attitudes and actions.
“Prevention is possible when everyone gets involved. The first step is increasing education, awareness and community involvement. It’s time for all of us to take action to increase a safer environment for all.
“Today, I join Quigley House, advocates and communities across the country in taking action to prevent sexual violence. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and each day of the year is an opportunity to create change for the future.”
When he was finished reading, he made one final warning.
“Heed my words: Keep your hands off.”
For more information or to help, contact the Quigley House at (904) 284-0061 or at quigleyhouse.org or the National Domestic Violence hotline at thehotline.org or by calling (800) 799-7233.