During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, one Harford County non-profit wants to increase awareness of the support services it offers to sexual assault victims and their families.
[Bel Air, MD] April 12, 2010—April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and while no one wants to think about being a victim, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every two minutes.
The National Violence Against Women Survey found that one out of every six American women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape, but sexual assault isn’t just limited to women. According to RAINN, about 3% of American men – or 1 in 33 – have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Perhaps most alarming, statistics show that 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12.
Fortunately, since 1978 the Harford County-based community agency SARC has been providing victims of domestic and sexual violence and stalking with a wide variety of services, many of which are free thanks to funding from government grants and community donors. In keeping with its mission to “work to end domestic and sexual violence, to aid its victims, and to create a society free from abuse and fear,” SARC provides victims with access to services including legal advocacy and representation, a safehouse in a confidential location, clinical services, information and referrals. The non-profit agency is also active in community outreach and education, and provides training and education to staff at area hospitals on how to respond to suspected sexual assault cases.
According to the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, sexual assault is defined as “any unwanted sexual contact, including rape, attempted rape, and child sexual abuse” and can affect people of any gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or ability. With in-house counselors, including a specialized children’s counselor, SARC is able to provide services to both victims and “secondary victims” such as children and other family members. When asked about SARC’s children’s counselor, one parent responded, “She is a wonderful counselor who is attentive and responsive to the children’s and family’s needs. I feel so blessed that she and the SARC agency are in my life.”
One of SARC’s most notable services is a program that sends a SARC staff member or volunteer to every reported case of sexual assault at area hospitals. On call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, each of these SARC companions is available to stay with and support the victim through the lengthy evidence-collection process necessary to press formal charges. SARC also offers a 24-hour confidential hotline service, counseling services and additional aid such as providing holiday dinners to clients in need.
Even if the assault was not recent, SARC can help. According to SARC Volunteer Coordinator Neala Lancellotti, the agency offers counseling services for adults who were victims as children and runs a support group, Adults Molested as Children, that meets regularly for group counseling therapy. Says Lancellotti, “SARC is unique in that we offer services customized for all ages and genders–men, women, teens and children. Whether we’re responding to a hospital call or comforting someone who calls the hotline after an assault, SARC is committed to offering whatever support possible to both primary and secondary victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.”
Because community outreach and education play a large role in SARC’s mission to end sexual assault and domestic violence, in addition to participating in community events, SARC periodically sponsors activities to raise awareness and support. For instance, on June 12 the agency will sponsor its second Walk A Mile in Her Shoes® event which gives men (many of whom opt to wear high heels) as well as women the opportunity to stand up and show their commitment to creating a society free from abuse and fear.
With a relatively small staff, SARC relies heavily on its volunteer pool to staff its 24-hour helpline and provide hospital companion services to victims. Headquartered in Harford County, SARC serves residents throughout Harford County and surrounding areas. When a companion volunteer was asked why she chose to volunteer with SARC, she said, “There is no greater feeling than being able to advocate for a victim and to be there solely to offer support to them; this may seem like a small task, but to me and to the victim it makes all the difference.”