A woman was raped in Savannah in 1974.
Like thousands of victims before her, she soon discovered that the “system” was not sensitive to the trauma she was going through and there were no services designed for women who were raped. Fortunately, she had a strong support system of friends. Many of those friends were members of N.O.W. (National Organization for Women) and were aware of the grassroots movement of establishing Rape Crisis Centers. They began by conducting interviews with the various agencies involved with victims and took a survey to assess the need. In August 1975, the first group of volunteers was ready and the telephone crisis line was opened.
Those first seven years (1975-1982), volunteers operated out of their homes to cover the 24 hour crisis line and to advocate for victims. The process of advocating led to increased awareness of the needs of victims and the Rape Crisis Center became involved in training hospital personnel, the police, and the District Attorney’s Office. Changes in the system were made and there was increased sensitivity to victims. The volunteers were also engaged in public speaking and publicity to increase rape awareness. This small group had very limited resources but an ever-present determination to make a difference.
In 1982, the Department of Public Health notified our volunteer leadership that there was federal grant money available for rape crisis services. We wrote a grant proposal and it was approved. This gave us the incentive to seek additional funds so that we could be more firmly established. Funds were requested from the City of Savannah and Chatham County and were approved in 1983. An Executive Director was employed, an office established, and a Board of Directors began the tasks of writing by-laws and policies, increasing publicity, and promoting fund raising activities.
During the first year as an established agency, the Rape Crisis Center was evaluated by a Study Committee from United Way and was found to meet their guidelines for admission in 1984. Our services were also expanded to offer support groups for rape and incest survivors. The Rape Crisis Center increased speaking engagements from 18 in 1982 to 69 in 1983 and provided professional training to other agencies.
The next two years showed steady increases in funding, staff, and services. We also sponsored a “Take Back the Night” march and a conference entitled “Coping after Sexual Assault". Brochures and handbooks were published and the volunteer force was increased to 60 participants. We developed prevention curriculums for various age groups. Additional support groups were offered as the demand for them increased. A self-defense class for women was developed.
Three decades later, the Rape Crisis Center is well established as a comprehensive agency serving Savannah and the surrounding area. Each year, the Rape Crisis Center reaches approximately 700 victims including adults, child victims, and family members of victims. Our crisis intervention programs now include SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) and SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners), which makes the reporting process much more responsive to the victim.
We’ve come a long way. However, rape continues to be an ever-present problem that affects hundreds in our community every year. We must continue to face the challenge together.