More and more individuals have begun coming forward about sexual assault on social media amidst increasing sexual assault allegations against public figures like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.
The campaign, called #MeToo, originally started in 2007 by Tarana Burke, but was turned into a hashtag last month after actress Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter asking followers to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault using the phrase “Me too.”
Orange County Rape Crisis Center’s development and administrative coordinator Gentry Hodnett says the social media efforts help the stigma of sexual violence because more people are feeling comfortable coming forward and accessing help.
Statistics from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, or OCRCC, reflect that increase according to the center’s executive director Alyson Culin.
“We don’t think that instances of violence are increasing but we do think more people are coming forward both coming to us for support, more people reporting to their friends, more people reporting to law enforcement,” said Culin. “I was actually looking at numbers from our last fiscal year we served about 650 people this past year, maybe 675, off the top of my head, and when I started the center in 2010 we were serving about 350 people a year.
“So we have about doubled the number of people we are helping each year, which is a huge amount. But as I said we don’t think more violence is occurring, we think more people are coming forward so it’s really a wonderful thing.”
Despite this, Culin says it’s unfortunate that the movement has relied on publicly outing sexual assault survivors to be taken seriously.
“Whether someone wants to tell others about their experience, doesn’t want to right now, or doesn’t want to ever, that’s totally their choice and that’s totally fine. Confidentiality is important just as sharing your story and raising your voice is important,” said Culin.
Hodnett says OCRCC focuses on an empowerment model.
“We believe that the survivor knows best for what they need, so we try not to tell them what they have to do. We want to give them the tools and resources that they have in front of them, but we want to give them the power to make that decision, so it’s important to listen but also not force a survivor into anything they’re not ready to do,” said Hodnett.
According to Hodnett, the center has many services available to anyone seeking help.
“OCRCC has a fabulous program for survivors as well as secondary survivors, those that are affected by sexual assault whether they be family members or friends. We provide 24/7 crisis support on our helpline and that is available for anybody at any stage in their trauma or their experience and if they just need to have a place to talk and vent, we’re there. We also provide support for people that want to go to the courts or report, or if they need somebody to go with them to the hospital we have trained companions that do this as well,” said Hodnett.
OCRCC has been working with schools from pre-k to ninth grade for over 35 years.
“We reach about 17,000 different people with our education programs each year, which is the other big step in prevention is that we aim to start conversations young about consent and body autonomy and we want people to feel empowered and we also want to teach people to respect other people’s boundaries,” said Hodnett.
The center will also be holding its annual holiday auction on December third at the Sheraton in Chapel Hill.
“Our holiday auction is our largest event of the year, it is our primary way of raising funds for the center and it’s free and confidential services. It begins with a reception and a silent auction and has a lovely banquet dinner. We’ve got Emmy award winner and Creative Health Education speaker Anita Woodley as our speaker this year, and we have so much fun, there’s a signature dessert auction as well as a live auction,” said Hodnett.
The auction prizes include tickets from Jet Blue, Disney tickets and a chance to create a burger of the day at Al’s Burger Shack.
Tickets for the event are $75 and can be purchased at the door or online ahead of time, with a recommended RSVP by November 20.
For more information on OCRCC or the holiday auction, visit their website.