TAKE 5: King: Sexual assault, rape not uncommon

Apr. 12, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

This week, we Take 5 with Susan Swan King, the executive director of HAVEN (Helping Abuse & Violence End Now) in Lee County, about Sexual Assault Awareness Month. King worked at HAVEN from 1992-2004 as outreach coordinator for five years, then as executive director, then returned to the organization as one of the many volunteers who helped restore shelter operations and services in the fall of 2013. In between, her work in the domestic violence field continued at the Division of Health & Human Services in Raleigh as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families domestic violence consultant for 18 months, then as family violence Prevention Services Act coordinator. Both positions provided King the opportunity to work with every domestic violence agency in North Carolina as a funder and trainer. She is a Sanford native and the mother of two grown daughters.

What is Sexual Assault Awareness Month about?

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault includes rape as well as other forms of assault, such as sexual harassment. This is a time to recognize sexual assault is an underreported crime that affects a staggering number of people in the United States. Rape is not rare; it is the fastest growing violent crime in the United States. One in every four girls and one in every six boys will be victims of sexual abuse before age 18. Children and adults are at the greatest risk of being sexually assaulted by someone they know.

What can someone do if he or she is sexually assaulted?

Sexual assault can happen to anyone who is forced to engage in a sexual act. When someone is sexually assaulted, he or she has had their safety and life seriously threatened and disrupted. It is imperative for victims to regain some control. Informing victims of choices and options available to them allows them to make informed decisions. It is critical to their healing that victims receive support.

HAVEN offers many forms of support through our crisis hotline ((919) 774-8923), hospital accompaniment, support groups and resource/referral information provided by trained volunteers and staff.

How can sexual assault be stopped?

Education is the key to reducing sexual assault. Many crimes go unreported because people believe societal myths about rape and sexual assault, such as “s/he asked for it,” “look what s/he was wearing,” “s/he was drunk,” “s/he was in the wrong place,” etc. The truth is anyone can be sexually assaulted or raped and no one asks for it, regardless of the circumstances. People who could support victims by encouraging them to report these crimes often do not because they believe these myths. Sometimes they even use these myths to dissuade victims from reporting a rape or sexual assault.

When these crimes remain unreported, it enables offenders to victimize other people. Stopping sexual assault will require for all men and women to recognize these myths and to help victims report rape and sexual assault. Rapists and people who perpetrate sexual assault must be held accountable.

What services does HAVEN provide to our community?

HAVEN is the only agency in Lee County that receives funding to provide services to victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. HAVEN’s mission is to help hurting people heal from abuse as we work to end domestic violence and sexual assault through community education, intervention, and primary prevention.

Our services are confidential and free to victims/survivors and include: advocacy, shelter, hospital accompaniment, safety planning, court advocacy, referral, resource information, counseling, support groups, support for children in the shelter, community education and a 24/7/365 crisis hotline. We have volunteers who are fluent in both English and Spanish. HAVEN also sponsors a 27-week batterers’ intervention program called MOVE (Men Overcoming Violence with Education). MOVE counsels batterers in order to help them understand the impact of their actions, address their emotions in a healthy manner and decrease the likelihood they will victimize anyone in the future.

How has HAVEN managed to reopen the shelter, which closed in August 2013, and to reestablish all of the needed services to Lee County?

Volunteers and donations enabled the services offered at HAVEN to continue last fall. Volunteers kept the office open and provided advocacy, crisis hotline services (again, that number is (919) 774-8923), court advocacy and resource/referral information. The shelter was closed for four months and reopened back on Dec. 8.

Since that date, 20 families (39 people) have resided in the shelter and have received supportive services and safety. Funds donated from individuals, civic organizations, businesses and United Way of Lee County helped pay the bills until the grant funds from state and federal sources became available in February.

The new HAVEN Board of Directors, chaired by Janice Oelrich Davis, is implementing a sustainability plan to ensure HAVEN can continue to help victims recover from rape and sexual assault. HAVEN just launched its “Count Me In” campaign. To learn more about the campaign or to donate, please contact me at (919) 774-8923.