Center helps sexual assault survivors

By Liza Porter

Numerous statements flash on the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault’s Web site under a heading titled “Did you Know?” Most have to do with the statistics of sexual assault.

• 17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.

• One in six women will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault in her lifetime.

• Only 40 percent of sexual assaults in 2005 were reported to the police.

• Victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression.

• Victims of sexual assault are four times more likely to commit suicide.

One statistic that might cause surprise: 80 percent of all people who have been abused know their abuser.

“It’s not stranger rape like it’s perpetuated through the media, on TV shows,” says Becky Holton, development director for SACASA. “It’s someone the person knows and trusts.”

Date rape can be a problem on college campuses. Though more people have heard of date rape than in years past, Holton says there’s still a lot of victim-blaming.

“Whether it’s what the female was wearing that night or she didn’t go to her car with her group of friends—it’s perpetuated in our society,” Holton says of victim blaming.

Though date and acquaintance rape are much more common than stranger rape, they are no less painful. Especially when a victim’s story is not believed.

One of SACASA’s primary missions is to make sure victims know that they’re believed, that there’s help available, that it’s not their fault.

“That’s first and foremost,” Holton says. Making sure they know they’re believed “goes so far in helping a survivor.”

SACASA maintains a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year crisis line staffed by center employees on weekdays and by volunteers overnight and on weekends.

“We have a Spanish crisis line and an English hotline, as well as an access and safety line, which is for those who are deaf or hard of hearing and they can text in their issues,” Holton says.

When sexual assault victims contact SACASA, an advocate will help them through the medical care process and forensics exam, if one is necessary.

“The volunteers are the back-bone of the organization,” Holton says. “We could not offer the services we do 24 hours a day without volunteers.”

Crisis line volunteer training involves 46 hours of learning about cycles of violence and role-playing how to handle a call on the crisis line.

After volunteers finish the training, they commit to taking at least two shifts a month. Lately, the classes have had up to 20 enrollees, which Holton says is more than in years past.

The SACASA office in midtown has five therapists and six or seven interns who do individual and group therapy. The South Tucson office has two therapists.

It often takes a long time before a rape survivor is ready for therapy.

“On average, six to seven years before someone who’s been assaulted will come in for therapy,” Holton says. There are many reasons why victims remain silent, and SACASA respects those reasons.

All services are free. “We think it’s really important that our services are free and accessible,” Holton says.

SACASA also does outreach to area middle schools and high schools. The core of the program is to help kids become aware of social and cultural myths, and get them to talk about them.

“Really talk about how media perpetuates certain images and certain beliefs,” Holton says. “Maybe change their perspective a little bit about how they view, you know, a music video or magazine art.”

SACASA teaches kids the difference between coercion and consent. Speakers try to get students to start looking at things differently, both for themselves and so they can become “active bystanders.”

Active bystanders are people who are willing to speak up. They might say, “This isn’t OK,” or “You don’t have the right to touch her that way just because you think you’re her boyfriend. She doesn’t like it.”

Since SACASA has only one person on staff who can visit schools, the Center applied for and received a grant to conduct an online Pima Community College course specifically aimed at teachers.

“It’s a one-credit class a teacher can take online and learn to implement our curriculum in their classroom,” Holton says.

Risk reduction is another part of SACASA’s program, Holton says, but it is definitely different from victim blaming.

“Risk reduction is saying, ‘Take these steps to help make yourself feel more safe,” Holton says. “But certainly if something happens to you, it was not your fault.”

She wants survivors of sexual assault to know there is an organization that will believe their story and will do everything in their power to get them the help they need.

Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault
Web site:
Crisis line: 327-7273 or 1-800-400-1001
TTY/TDD/SMS line: 327-1721
Office phone: 327-1171

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