Editor’s Note: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Planned Parenthood of Illinois is proud to partner with the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault to let our readers know about resources and information about this important topic.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many things, the ongoing need for rape crisis services remains a constant in our communities. In honor of survivors of sexual violence, the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) and its 30 rape crisis centers across the state recognize April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
This is the second straight April that centers are raising awareness of this issue under the duress of a global pandemic. The dramatic changes in society prompted by the pandemic have not changed the fact that sexual violence impacts everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, sex, or socioeconomic status. In fact, one in three women and one in six men experience sexual violence in their lifetime, so we must be vigilant in our efforts to combat this public health epidemic.
We must raise our voices against sexual violence. We must support survivors.
While the pandemic has forced many organizations to reduce services and make changes to their work, rape crisis centers have continued to provide ongoing counseling, medical, and legal advocacy without interruption to survivors of sexual violence
Crisis intervention services at ICASA’s 30 centers remain free, confidential, and available through hotlines 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Every year, thousands of survivors rely on these services and rape crisis centers stand ready to answers those calls. Schools and organizations like ours also continue to provide prevention programming, so that we can better stop sexual violence before it happens. We also do institutional advocacy work and offer professional training alongside our community partners.
The pandemic did not change our values or priorities. Our services remain driven by the victim-centered approach that is critical to serving survivors — a philosophy that is foundational to our work. Survivors are front and center in determining their own paths forward, whether services begin at the hospital emergency room, on the crisis hotline, or in the counselor’s office, and regardless of whether the assault was recent or occurred years before. There is no timetable for survivors seeking assistance. Rape crisis centers are there to provide the counseling and advocacy services that best suit each individual survivor.
During this pandemic, rape crisis centers have adapted to meet survivors where they are. We have shifted our operations so that we can offer services through new virtual counseling platforms and provide prevention programming to community groups via Zoom and Facebook Live. We have moved quickly to innovate and find creative ways and venues to reach survivors and audiences, despite these new challenges. And rape crisis centers will continue to adapt as society ventures into whatever our “new normal” becomes.
We ask you to support your local rape crisis center.
Identify where the rape crisis center is in your area. Join the virtual and in-person activities centers are hosting in your community this month. Follow them on social media and share their posts. Support their efforts to raise awareness on sexual violence issues and help amplify their voices. Be an active bystander. Volunteer.
Help us end sexual violence this month — and every month.
You can find more information on sexual violence and a listing of rape crisis centers in Illinois at www.icasa.org.
Carrie Ward is Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.