Sexual assault statistics paint a sobering picture as the number of incidents reported are far exceeded by the number of actual cases and perpetrators walking free in communities.

"Sexual assault is not something that just happens to someone else. It happens to our families, friends, coworkers and children," Ivonne Zucco, executive director of the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education, said during a press conference at the Darien Town Hall Tuesday morning. "We serve over 500 primary and secondary victims every year. We also participate in 80 child sexual assault investigations each year."

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The following statistics were compiled by The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education: •1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will become a victim of sexual assault; •1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime; •20 to 25 percent of college women are raped during their college career; •Nearly 1 in 5 Connecticut residents has experienced a sexual assault in their lifetime

However, Zucco noted sexual assault continues to be one of the most under-reported crimes in society.

"Out of 100 rapes, only 46 will be reported, only 12 will result in arrest, only five result in felony conviction and only three perpetrators will spend anytime in prison," Zucco said. "Victims are left with aftermath of the incident and the issue of not finding justice. We're left with criminals walking down the street. Don't be a bystander. We are responsible for responding in an appropriate way."

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, who read a proclamation declaring April Sexual Assault and Abuse Awareness Month, said the issue is one that comes up frequently in her home with her five children.

"Being the mother of five children, four of whom are girls, this is a topic we discuss frequently," she said. "Two of my daughters are in college and I want them to be aware of this information."

Over the past year, Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services served 5,700 victims of sexual assault and abuse with an increased number of those victims being men and boys, Executive Director Laura Cordes said.

"Sexual assault is the most under reported crime. Another way of looking at it is that sexual assault doesn't just happen. People are choosing to do this. There are far too many people who are choosing to sexually assault and abuse," Cordes said. "Offenders are counting on the culture we've been raised in that there will be people who question the victims credibility. Then the cycle continues."

Reporting a sexual assault incident is only the beginning of a much longer process that can leave a victim struggling to find ways to cope. Zucco said those coping methods often manifest in negative ways including people who develop eating disorders, abuse alcohol or inflict harm upon themselves. Those issues can be further exacerbated as victims proceed through the court process and are required to testify.

Jessie Bekoe, victims' advocate for the Stamford and Norwalk judicial district, said she works with victims to assist them through court proceedings.

Bekoe, who works with adult and child assault and abuse cases, said there are instances where a victim of sexual assault or abuse will be in danger of suffering significant mental distress if forced to testify in court and face the perpetrator. She said part of her job involves presenting information to the prosecutor to find alternate options for obtaining the information without further harming the victim.

"The first thing that goes out the window when you are sexually assaulted is your trust of people," Bekoe said. "When you bring a victim into the prosecutor's office I'm a stranger and so is the prosecutor. We allow a therapist from the center for sexual assault crisis counseling and education to come with them. Then the victim has somebody they know with them and that really seems to work well."

The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education will host events throughout the month to draw more attention to the prevalence of sexual assault and abuse in Fairfield County.

bholbrook@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/bholbrooknews; 203-972-4407