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A Place of Help, Hope, and Healing for Rape Victims

By Pamela Sosnowski

According to the CDC, one out of every five American women will become a victim of sexual assault. For those who have been raped, there is often shame, self-blame, and confusion about where to turn to find support. For over forty years, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center has been easing the emotional scars of survivors in the Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, and surrounding communities by providing help and healing in a safe, supportive, and confidential environment.

"Despite recent strides, sexual violence remains a very taboo topic, and victim-blaming is unfortunately all too common," explains Alyson Culin, the Center's Development and Communications Director. "The Orange County Rape Crisis Center can provide both emotional support and concrete resources for survivors, their loved ones, and professionals." The goal is to help survivors understand their options- whether they need help navigating legal and medical systems or simply a listening ear.

All of the Center's services are free and confidential. They include a 24-hour help line that operates every day of the year, support groups, and therapy referrals. The Center recently expanded its support group and workshop offerings to up to twenty each year. The trained staff support not only the victims, but their loved ones as well."Survivors can join traditional 8-week discussion groups to share and learn from others who have had similar experiences with sexual violence," explains Culin. Survivors can also take part in workshops that explore healing through activities from art and yoga to gardening. "These workshops are national models for alternative healing modalities, and they have proven to be popular and helpful for our clients," says Culin.

The Center typically serves 600 clients each year, relying on community support to sustain that level of service. "There's no way our staff would be able to do that on our own," says Culin. "We are so grateful that the Orange County community is incredibly supportive of our work, meaning we are able to provide more and better services to survivors of sexual violence."

The Center also places an emphasis on community education for youth and adult groups to help raise awareness about sexual violence and prevention. "We present programs in every classroom of every elementary school in both the city and the county school district," says Culin. "Parents greatly appreciate that we talk to kids about safe touches, what to do if something makes them feel uncomfortable, how to prevent bullying, and more." The Center's community education programs reach over 15,000 youth and adults annually.

That education, according to Culin, is key to reducing the frequency of sexual assault. "Although we often see it in the media, sexual violence is still greatly misunderstood," she says. "The best thing we can all do as allies is to educate ourselves in recognizing, preventing, and responding to sexual violence."

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