An Interview with King County Sexual Assault Resouce Center
March 18, 2020
April is coming soon, and while there may be a lot going on in our communities right now, it’s important to remember that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. That means it’s the perfect time for us all to brush up on our local support centers, and how we can get involved with their work—including how to support them during the COVID-19 outbreak.
One of the most profound moments from our recent event with Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, the New York Times journalists who led the investigation against Harvey Weinstein and ushered in a new era for #MeToo, was the enthusiastic applause that filled the hall when our Executive Director introduced the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC), proof that the organization touches many lives here.
KCSARC is an invaluable organization whose purpose is to alleviate, as much as possible, the trauma of sexual assault for victims and their families. Their mission is to give voice to victims, their families, and the community; create change in beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors about violence; and instill courage for people to speak out about sexual assault.
We spoke to Mary Ellen Stone, their Executive Director, below.
What’s something that might surprise readers about King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC)?
When many people think about sexual assault, they tend to think of it as something that it happens to other people, not to people they know. But, we know that sexual assault remains one of the most underreported crimes. We have received calls on our 24-Hour Resource Line from people in their 70s and 80s who have said they have lived with their secret since childhood. Chances are, everyone knows someone—it’s just not something most survivors speak about.
Backing this up, federal crime statistics analyzed by RAINN suggest 77% of sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement.
We wish more people knew that it’s possible to heal from the trauma of sexual assault, with the right support. We also wish more people knew that resources for survivors are available right in our community that can help foster healing—and right now, even during the COVID emergency, KCSARC remains open and all services available.
What services does KCSARC provide?
KCSARC is a specialized, comprehensive hub of support and services for survivors of sexual assault, both adults and children. We are a community-based nonprofit that serves all of King County with direct services, prevention education in schools and the community, and systems advocacy to help improve response to sexual assault.
In addition to operating the 24-hour sexual assault resource line in King County (888.99.VOICE), KCSARC offers direct services such as legal advocacy, therapy, family education, and support. These services are designed to be comprehensive and holistic, and take into account the individual needs of each survivor.
What does that look like in practice?
For example, someone may initially contact us for support in reporting an assault to law enforcement, and assigned a legal advocate to help them navigate the criminal justice system, which we know can be confusing and emotionally draining for someone still living with trauma.
As they work with and support their client, explaining procedures or obtaining a Sexual Assault Protection Order, the legal advocate may notice that their client needs additional support to help them manage emotional responses to trauma. The legal advocate may suggest talking with a KCSARC therapist, and facilitates that connection.
In cases involving children, there may be a connection made to a KCSARC parent educator. And in cases where a client’s income is limited, a client care specialist can arrange for other basic supports needed to ensure access to care and healing, such as transportation to and from therapy appointments or court, help applying for social services, or connections to partnering agencies specializing in housing and other specific services.
For survivors who speak Spanish, KCSARC has a team of Spanish-speaking client care specialists, legal advocates, therapists, and parent educators called Dando Voz. The ability to provide direct services without the use of translators is important to ensure the highest degree of client confidentiality, efficacy, and culturally-relevant care. In cases where survivors face additional legal barriers to reporting and healing involving immigration and citizenship, this team is also equipped to provide referral to partnering immigration and family law attorneys.
Whether in English or Spanish, KCSARC offers evidence-based therapy, considered the gold standard in treating serious emotional responses to trauma, like PTSD. This differs from what many people know about talk therapy for other mental health conditions. It is intended to be brief—typically, 14-16 sessions—and equip a survivor to recognize and manage their responses to trauma so that they can re-gain aspects of their lives that the trauma disrupted.
Is there any particular story you’d like to highlight?
One of KCSARC’s Speakers Bureau members, Sphie, spoke about the difference this kind of therapy has made in her life: “You have to feel all of the feelings you never felt, and it’s like living the experience for the first time,” she said. “Then, after time, you feel different—and you don’t just feel like it’s changed for a little while; you know that you’re back to who you were. I feel like I’m back on track and actually accomplishing my dreams.” [Watch a snippet of her story]
For firsthand insight into how this type of therapy works, readers may want to listen to NPR’s This American Life recent podcast called 10 Sessions, in which journalist and survivor of childhood sexual assault Jaime Lowe recorded her sessions with a former University of Washington psychologist who specializes in evidence-based practices.
Are there books or other resources you recommend to help people understand more about sexual violence?
Seattle Arts & Lectures recently hosted Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists and authors of She Said. Their investigation and reporting provided timely fuel for the #MeToo movement, which shifted the national dialog surrounding sexual assault. That national conversation, in turn, has created an opening for more and more survivors to speak out about their abuse; and we believe this has been a watershed moment in our movement. After all, we can’t stop sexual violence if we can’t talk about it.
It also has created the conditions needed for survivors like Chanel Miller to come forward with her story, Know My Name. Before she decided to write her book, most people only knew her case by her perpetrator’s name, Brock Turner. She bravely shares her story of healing following a sexual assault with the whole world watching.
When it comes to children and teens, talking with them is one of the most important things a parent can do to help protect them. KCSARC has published resources that we hope all parents will read, such as he told me not to tell. This booklet helps parents understand and respond to grooming behavior. For example, we know it’s typical for a perpetrator, usually an older person in position of trust or power, to groom their victim over a period of time before the abuse takes place. There are typically signs of grooming, that, taken together, may help a parent identify behaviors or just trust their own gut about a situation. (And, if parents have questions or just want to run something they’re observing by our staff, they are welcome to contact our Resource Line.)
Along the same lines, when a child or teenager knows that the lines of communication are open with their parent, it can serve as a protective factor when it comes to sexual abuse. Families should have open, fact-based conversations about things that empower their child—from the earliest ages, using accurate names for body parts, giving a child control over whether or not to give someone a hug, for example. For conversations with adolescents, KCSARC has published a resource for parents and teens to use called 100 Conversations.
Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, how can people become more involved with KCSARC? What actions can people take to help end sexual violence?
The best things everyone can do to help end sexual violence is to be supportive of survivors when they disclose an assault. Research shows that a supportive first response to a disclosure is important to eventual healing. Something as simple as saying “I believe you” is exactly what a survivor needs to hear.
Knowing the resources available in your community to help someone who has experienced sexual assault is another concrete step toward healing and ending sexual violence. Many survivors feel shame, guilt, and self-blame following sexual assault. When a victim feels heard and believed, when they are supported in their healing, they are able to see the reality of the assault, and begin to understand that they could not realistically have stopped the assault, and that no one is to blame for an assault except the perpetrator. KCSARC continues to operate, providing all services during the COVID-19 closures.
More broadly, we can all strive to stop the harmful myths, attitudes, and norms that support gender-based violence. Listen carefully to the news or social media reporting about an assault. Does the reporting focus heavily on the perpetrator’s achievements, their bright future/promising career/place within the community, and offer little about the hopes, dreams, aspirations of the victim? Does it include information about the victim’s use of alcohol or drugs? Do stories you hear differentiate between rape and “date rape?” These are the same reports survivors are reading, too. Would they make you feel confident your story would be taken seriously? Our WordWatch training tool offers more insight.
We hope people will choose to inform themselves, their families, their friends, and workplaces. KCSARC’s website offers sections for people who are looking for direct help, for information, or to get involved in our work. We invite people to sign up for our e-newsletter for more information, news and stories about our work. Folks on social media can also follow and engage in the conversation by finding us @KCSARC on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
What has been giving you hope lately?
First, we are incredibly pleased that the state legislature has taken the step of ensuring that every student in Washington state has access to foundational lessons about healthy relationships, personal boundaries and consent that Comprehensive Sexual Health Education promises. As of this writing, it awaits signature by Governor Inslee.
We believe strongly in the power of education to shift long-held cultural norms that need to change if we are to prevent sexual violence in the next generation. KCSARC’s prevention educators are embedded in Renton School District middle and high schools, and work with other school districts as well to help ensure these vital lessons. It’s important to note that the whole community surrounding students needs to have access to the same information and take part in changing attitudes in order for those changes to take root.
A second thing that gives us hope in a rapidly changing time is the response by our community after we were forced to cancel our biggest annual fundraising event this March due to the COVID-19 outbreak. KCSARC depends on the BE LOUD Breakfast for more than a third of all private funds we must raise this year. At this time, we’re serving 22% more survivors than before #MeToo began trending on social media, and we are not seeing anything to suggest this will recede—this is our permanent “new normal.” As more survivors and families than ever turn to KCSARC for help, we are adding staff, improving technology, and we even moved our office in Renton to accommodate these changes and serve clients better. So this fundraising effort is critical to supporting all of that.
But what we saw was astonishing: After quickly turning the event into an online campaign, we actually reached our goal, despite the fact that our expected 1,000 attendees didn’t gather in person.
For those who want to be part of that supportive community, visit our website or text BELOUD to 243-725.
Thank you, Mary Ellen and KCSARC!