When the neighborhood newspaper carrier delivered the heavy Thanksgiving edition, Joanne Milner's family joked about the "paperboy-girl."

The 12-year-old girl - "a sweetheart," according to Milner - comes from a large, conscientious family."This family is a model family of sorts," said Rep. Milner, D-Salt Lake, of her neighbors. "The parents take an integral part in teaching their children accountability and responsibility."

Several weeks ago, according to Milner, her neighbors gathered their children to talk about the tidal wave of violence sweeping the country. Without wanting to evoke fear, the parents hoped to educate their children about what to do if they became victims of an assault or attack.

Last Saturday, their 12-year-old daughter was raped and beaten in Salt Lake's Jordan Park neighborhood. The attack occurred at 7:30 a.m., while the girl was riding her bike to deliver newspapers on her route.

Salt Lake police are looking for a man who may have committed a series of rapes in neighborhoods near Jordan Park. And Sgt. Roy Wasden, of the department's Sex Crimes Unit, issued a unique warning to young girls, asking them to stay in well-lighted areas and travel in groups of three or more. Neighborhood residents are asked to report any suspicious individuals seen in the area.

"We've all been violated and victimized," Milner said. "It was the rape of a neighborhood."

In the local area, more than 50 percent of the 200 cases of sexual assault reported each month occur to minors, according to Christine Watters, director of the Rape Crisis Center. "They're children," she said.

Life changes for all victims of sexual abuse or sexual assaults. And for younger victims, "they're robbed of childhood," Watters said.

Most 12-year-old girls are growing through the latency stage of development, according to Mary Ann Glas-glow, a Salt Lake therapist for children and families.

Girls are self-interested at this age, just beginning to become aware of boys. Many girls in this transitional stage become intensely aware of how they look.

With prepubescent eyes, 12-year-olds are beginning to figure out their place in the world. A sexual attack can create a distorted picture of sexuality. The incident can "divert energy from the task at hand, which is moving into developing an identity," Glasglow said. "It builds into that identity, that (feeling of) `No, I am not safe,' " Glasglow said.

"I think when a kid has a traumatic event it becomes a benchmark, the way a kid judges the rest of their life," said Mary Ellen Reading, a social worker at Glendale Intermediate School.

In a society that is becoming increasingly violent, each additional sexual attack is quickly folded into burgeoning columns of statistics. For an increasing number of women, those statistics add up to one thing: vulnerability.

That fear is beginning to poison younger hearts, too.

"It's terrible to say that we can't have an environment where children are safe walking home from a late meeting at school or to church," said Watters, of the crisis center. "It's terrible to have to say that that makes children vulnerable."

When such attacks occur unchecked in society, "we're promoting fear," Glasglow said. "We're promoting helplessness. And those are emotions that get in the way of a fully functioning lifestyle."

Reading said some students at Glendale are aware of last Saturday's rape, as well as the series of violent crimes that occurred in their neighborhood. School officials hope to provide a supportive environment for students to talk about their fears. "I just feel bad about the whole thing. I think it's just a tragic thing. But our school gets its share of tragic things, as do most schools."

When a schoolchild and a woman were killed after being struck by cars in Sandy crosswalks, the incident sparked angry outbursts by residents who pressured city officials to install flashing lights. Milner hopes the string of rapes can spark more vigilance from the residents who live around Jordan Park.

"I can't even feel like I can go to the grocery store at night," she said.

"It (the rape) has really taken its toll. My parents are really scared. My father bought me a mace thing last night. You know what they want to get me for Christmas? A stun gun. C'mon.

"It's high time we say `Because this child was victimized, we're all victimized.' "