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Crisis center says to be aware of surroundings to help prevent sexual crimes

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - Three high school students are facing charges in an attack after a weeks-long sexual assault investigation.

The three are Calhoun high school seniors, in Gordon county.

Police say the incident happened at a post-prom party at a cabin near Ellijay.

The suspects, Fields Chapman, Andrew Haynes, and Damon Avery Johnson, all seniors at Calhoun, turned themselves into authorities.

The attack happened at a crowded party, police say at least person witnessed the assault.

We looked into why some don't intervene during sexual attacks and found out it's called the bystander effect, when someone sees something going on, but doesn't intervene because no one else does.

Caroline Huffker with the Rape Crisis Center in Chattanooga says it's something that happens too often.

"Maybe [they] don't want to be singled out as the person who brought an end to the fun or a tattle tale, there is any number of reasons that someone may not come forward and not intervene," said Huffker.

Huffker tells Channel 3 the lack of intervening also partially stems from the hook-up mind-set  and some don't realize those hook-ups might not be consensual and the crime goes unnoticed.

"It's just an intimate violation that a lot of people when it comes to personal relationships they say well I don't want to get involved," said Huffker.

She says in a typical party atmosphere you will want to make yourself aware of what other people are doing. You can do that by keeping an eye out for someone isolating another person from their friends and bringing them drinks. She says it's also not a bad idea to watch those who might be overly intoxicated or have passed out from being drunk to ensure their safety.

But if you are a bystander during a sexual crime, it could get you in trouble.

Charles Wright with River City Legal group says bystanders won't be charged for being present if they can prove they weren't involved.
"I would take some action to disengage myself from it or even coming to the person's aid, just something to distinguish yourself," said Wright.

Otherwise, they'll have some explaining to do and if proven guilty, could result in jail time similar to committing the actual crime itself.

Huffker says it's best just to be aware of your surroundings so you can help prevent sexual crimes.

"Intervention is different for every situation. If you don't feel comfortable intervening or you think it looks suspicious, get a couple of people to go with you or get it on other people's radar or insert yourself safely into the situation. You don't want to be involved in an altercation and if it seems like it's going to become one then you should call the police," said Huffker.

Huffker tells Channel 3 when traumatic events like sexual crimes take place it causes parts of the brain to not function, many times leading the victim to physically freeze and sometimes be unable to speak. She says that prevents many from being able to get help.

If you or someone you know is a victim of a sexual crime, you can call the Rape Crisis Center at 423-755-2700.

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