It's not easy to put a hard number, or even a rough estimate, on how many people in New Jersey are the victim of sexual violence each year.

And that may remain the case for generations as sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in the country.

According to Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the state's Uniform Crime Report indicated a 6.9 percent increase in reported rapes and reported attempted rapes from 2015 to 2016. And last year, rape crisis centers across New Jersey served more than 10,000 people.

"The ability to combine that information is really challenging," she said. "Our rape crisis centers sometimes serve survivors who have been victimized many years prior and are just now coming to terms with their victimization."

Beyond NJCASA'S 24-hour hotline (800-601-7200), every New Jersey county has its own program that offers services to survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones. Rutgers University has an office devoted to the matter as well.

Several New Jersey counties have events planned in April to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month. On May 6, NJCASA holds its largest fundraising and awareness-raising event, a 5K on the Asbury Park boardwalk.

"I don't think that there's been a correlation between increased community awareness and increased confidence in reporting through the criminal justice system," Teffenhart said.

Survivors pay attention to high-profile sexual violence cases when weighing whether to speak up about abuse, she noted. And when perpetrators get away with nothing but a slap on the wrist — for example, less than three months in jail for former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman —they wonder if it's worth the trouble and unwanted attention.

"Every time we get it right, we're building confidence in the systems and in the responses," Teffenhart said. "And when we get it wrong, it absolutely shuts survivors down and causes them to not seek justice and not seek the services that are available to them."

On Apr. 3, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center released a report that finds men and young adults struggle to understand what constitutes sexual assault.

Compared to 79 percent of women, 67 percent of men identified "sexual intercourse where one of the partners is pressured to give their consent" as assault.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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