Is the Silence Broken?
30 years after rape crisis centers, women are being heard.
March 27, 2000 (Berkeley, Calif.) -- More than once a minute, 78 times an
hour, 1,871 times a day, girls and women in America are raped.
When this traumatic event happens to a woman in the vicinity of Duke
University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., now she'll be spared the glaring
lights of the ER.
Instead, while she goes through the necessary medical treatment, evidence
gathering, and questioning by police, she'll be cared for in a softly lit room
with comfortable furnishings and pastel-painted walls.
The team of medical personnel -- including specially trained female nurses
who collect evidence using state-of-the-art equipment -- will do what they need
to do, but will also pay close attention to the emotional needs of the
survivor, whether she's 15 or 45. The full spectrum of care will be on hand,
from trained counselors to practical amenities such as fresh clothing and
Much has changed since the first rape crisis centers sprang up 30 years ago
in the wake of the "Break the Silence" movement that began in New York.
The message was a profound and powerful one, says Marybeth Carter of the
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA): Rape affects all of us,
and you are not alone.
Out of that early movement came the early hotlines, staffed at first by
untrained volunteers. Then in 1974, realizing that women who had been raped had
nowhere to turn for help, Gail Abarbanel founded the Rape Treatment Center in
Santa Monica, Calif., offering psychological intervention as well as medical
Specialized Care in the Aftermath of Assault
This past fall, when Duke's specially designed center opened, it joined an
evolving nationwide trend toward gentler, specialized, more effective treatment
in the aftermath of assault. The facility, like others across the country, has
been consciously designed as a safe, calm setting, where patients who've
undergone sexual trauma can be offered more than emergency medical
There is mounting evidence that early intervention and immediate counseling
speeds a rape survivor's recovery. Every state now has Coalitions Against
Sexual Assault (CASA) programs designed to support rape crisis centers and the
clients they serve. Most states now have Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs)
composed of specially trained legal, medical, and counseling professionals and
advocates working together.
Such teams today routinely offer advice on sexually transmitted diseases,
HIV, pregnancy, infection, and other risks. They usually have on hand the
morning-after pill, as well as other treatments and drugs for specific medical
needs. Trained counselors are on hand 24 hours a day. Some institutions, such
as Stuart House in Santa Monica, have special services just for children who've
Advances in Psychological Care
Research underscores the profound and complex trauma experienced by rape
victims. A study funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse found in the
early 1990s that survivors were at increased risk for a broad array of mental
health problems, from attempted suicide, to increased drug and alcohol abuse,
to major depressive episodes.