Tag Archives: victim support

A Two-Front Battle Against Sexual Assault

How do you end sexual assault across an entire community? 

The answer, according to the leaders of Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA), is rooted at both the individual and community level. The 46-year-old agency, formerly known as the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, set up the first-ever sexual assault hotline in Santa Barbara in 1974. 

Over the years, the services have grown. Now STESA intervenes with survivors within hours of an assault, counsels those who may have delayed sharing their stories and is engaged in a full-on effort against the cultural norms that have allowed sexual violence to proliferate for so long. 

Executive Director Elsa Granados has been in the movement to end sexual violence since 1985. In 1997, she assumed her role at STESA. What keeps her engaged? 

“Overall what I see is that we really transform people’s lives,” Granados says. “They come to us in a place where they are very vulnerable, feeling pain and trauma. It’s not that transformation comes overnight. But when they make the decision to leave our services, they are in a different place.” 

Amazingly, STESA’s skeleton full-time staff of four hotline responders/case managers and a clutch of dedicated volunteers comprehensively meet the needs of 550 survivors and their significant others all using an empowerment model. Once a call comes into the hotline, STESA staff or volunteers are there within 30 minutes. This could be at a school, hospital or police station. They then walk survivors through their options: medical care, legal reporting, and mental health counseling. “We always ask survivors if they want to work with us,” says STESA Program Director Idalia Gomez. “One decision about their bodies was already taken from them, so we make sure they know they are in charge of their healing.”

Beyond direct services, STESA is actively engaged in educating the community about the prevalence and precursors to sexual assault. They go into Santa Barbara schools, debunking myths about sexual assualt, hold community events – and even teach self-defense.

“We need everyone in our community to be engaged in the issue,” Executive Director Granados says. “Not everyone has to do everything, but everyone has to do something when it comes to sexual assault.”

Guiding Survivors Out of the Woods

On the second day of her freshman year of college, Aspen Matis was raped. 

When “mediation” with her attacker failed, and the school inexplicably moved him into her dorm, Matis was traumatized, scared and left alone. Instead of moving him out, they moved her to a converted motel off campus, where she would sit, alone, staring at the cinder block walls. 

While there, Matis called the National Sexual Assault Hotline – created and operated by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. 

“The person I spoke with was so amazing,” Matis says. “She told me things that sound so obvious in retrospect, but at the time they were revelations to me: ‘This was not your fault. You didn’t cause this. Short shorts don’t cause rape. Weed doesn’t cause rape. Rapists cause rape.’ Talking with a compassionate professional from RAINN became the first step in my healing process.”

After a handful of more calls with RAINN’s highly trained support specialists, Matis decided to leave college. Her new plan: walk the 2,500 miles from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail to raise money for RAINN.

Beyond operating the hotline and providing other victim services that have touched more than 3.2 million survivors and their loved ones since 1994, RAINN works with national media and the entertainment industry to elevate sexual violence storylines across the country. RAINN also works to expand the use of DNA in unsolved rape kits, reduce the backlog of untested rape kits, reform statute of limitations laws, broaden survivors’ access to appropriate medical care, protect young athletes, and bring perpetrators to justice. 

“We founded RAINN more than 25 years ago based on the belief that no survivor should feel alone,” says Founder and President Scott Berkowitz. “While supporting survivors will always be at the core of what we do, we have become the leading voice educating the public and fighting for survivors’ rights in Congress and the states.” 

In 2015, Matis wrote a memoir, “Girl in the Woods,” about her epic trek and painful recovery, which was propelled into the spotlight as a part of Oprah’s Book Club. As a member of the RAINN Speakers Bureau, Matis travels the country spreading awareness about sexual assault and rape, and its frightening frequency. Nearly one in four young women will have such an experience before leaving college.

“The reality is that sexual assault and rape are happening every day and everywhere,” Matis says. “The most convenient thing to do is to pretend that they are rare, because acknowledging this epidemic is uncomfortable and it’s sad and it’s scary. But by denying reality, averting your eyes and just willing it away, you are denying the validity of the struggles of so many people, and also denying them resources that may help them to heal and live a fulfilling life after.

RAINN is doing a wonderful and admirable service for the people who have been through the trauma of sexual assault and for anyone who knows someone or loves someone who has been raped.”