ICADV enthusiastically welcomes our second guest blogger as Sexual Assault Awareness Month comes to a close. Domestic violence and sexual assault are undeniably linked. Advocates and allies on both fronts unite in the belief that consent and choice are vital to safety, that all survivors deserve to be seen, heard, and believed, and that everyone deserves communities in which they can be safe and thrive. In this blog we hear from Carrie Ward, Chief Executive Officer of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA). 

 

April is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. That recognition must start with acknowledgment of the courage shown by survivors in coming forward to seek assistance in recovering from their assault. The bravery shown by these survivors of all genders, races, ages and ethnicities is the starting point for all services provided by rape crisis centers in Illinois communities.

While we officially recognize that courage in April, we know that it is there all year long, each time a survivor discloses their abuse, seeks care at an emergency room, reports to law enforcement, and reaches out to a rape crisis center.

The work of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault and its 31 rape crisis centers is grounded in a in trauma-informed response. This is the foundation for center staff work with survivors. Embedded in that trauma-informed response is the confidentiality of services that centers provide. The privileged communications Illinois rape crisis centers offer survivors is rare in our country and provides insulation for the healing conversations and efforts driven by the survivor’s needs and no others.

The centers offer this trauma-informed approach through a variety of services including 24-hour hotline, counseling, advocacy, prevention education, and professional training.  Any survivor, regardless of age, race, gender, or ethnicity, is welcome at a rape crisis center.

Advocacy services often begin with center staff as first responders, meeting survivors in the emergency rooms and helping them navigate the first few hours after an assault and can continue as survivors navigate the criminal justice system. Advocacy services can also include working through the civil justice system including seeking orders of protection or other civil remedies.

Counseling is at the heart of rape crisis center work. Specially trained counselors are available for in-person or virtual counseling sessions. The sessions can begin soon after the assault or years later. The majority of clients at rape crisis centers don’t begin receiving services until five years after the assault.

The prevention programming ICASA centers deliver in communities is geared toward ending sexual violence. These programs are provided to schools, community organizations and companies. Last year more than 600,000 youth received prevention programming from rape crisis centers.

We know sexual violence can’t end without collaboration with others. Rape crisis centers strive to have relationships with other agencies and institutions and work together to end rape culture.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to talk about services this April without discussing the burden recent funding cuts have imposed on centers. That weight is hindering services to survivors as 57% of the centers have had to initiate waiting lists for services, five centers were forced to close satellite offices and 14 hospitals no longer receive 24-hour response from rape crisis center staff. The reduction in staff has come at the cost of 1,400 fewer survivors expected to receive services this year. Please help support ICASA’s call for increased state funding for rape crisis services in Illinois by contacting your local state representative or senator and telling them to provide $20 million in FY25.

Thank you for recognizing sexual assault awareness month, the bravery of survivors, and the efforts of crisis center staff in our communities.

 

–Carrie Ward, Chief Executive Officer, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA)