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Rape crisis centers evolved in order to help victims of rape, sexual abuse, and other forms of sexual violence. Also referred to as sexual assault centers, RCCs serve a number of purposes. Depending on the setup of an RCC, the organization will be equipped to see children, adults, or both. Most RCCs run a 24 hour, 7 day a week crisis hotline that individuals can call anonymously and free of charge. The primary goal is victim advocacy. Advocates provide emotional support and information to victims and their families during the hours, days, and weeks following an attack. RCCs also coordinate response from local agencies such as the Police or Sheriff's Department, the District Attorney's office, Child Protective Services, any local schools or hospitals involved in the incident.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE, operated by RAINN) is a partnership by over 1,100 rape crisis centers.
Outreach programs advertise a Center's existence in the surrounding community. Fundraising and awareness campaigns aid communities in coming together to end sexual violence. In recent years RCCs have begun working on outreach projects with faith based communities, GLBTQ communities, and other groups of individuals who share a cultural identity. Some outreach projects specifically serve non-English speaking people in their respective communities.
In areas where rape crisis centers exist there is most likely a partnership between the center and local law enforcement agency. Rape crisis centers have been known to provide in service training about the act of forcible rape and associated trauma to new officers. The two agencies might collaborate on the evidence collection process alongside a sexual assault nurse examiner. Forensic interviews are also a law enforcement agents have not historically been the most supportive of rape victims. There have reports of police officers inappropriately questioning rape victims, dismissing reports of sexual assault, and pressuring victims to report when they don't want to. This failure by law enforcement agents can be attributed to the wider cultural phenomenon of victim blaming myths.
Rape crisis centers in the US and Europe were created in an effort to understand and meet the needs of survivors of sexual violence. Their formation was a result of feminist movement efforts that began in the 1970s. This was a watershed, not only in terms of services for survivors, but also in terms of attitudes towards rape. In the USA, NOW (National Organisation for Women) orchestrated national legislative reform so that by 1980 most US states had changed their laws on rape more in line with modern thinking - for example by removing the principle that a man can't rape his wife. This ongoing legislative reform was part of the same movement that formed rape crisis centres. They were (and in many places, especially in the UK, remain) volunteer organisations committed to the rights and needs of survivors. Most were self-defined feminist organisations, although not all were women only. By 1979, over 1,000 rape crisis centres existed across the USA, and they had become an important part of infrastructure. At this point, more and more RCCs became professionalised and received state level and national funding.
In 1980, Anne Pride, director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) was held in contempt of court for refusing to submit the records of a client to the defence attorney when the case came to court, a mistrial was ruled and the case went to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, who ruled in favour of PAAR. This forced the issue of rc counsellors and confidentiality on the political and legislative agenda, by 1983 there was no legal doubt that rc record would remain confidential.
RCCs were further strengthened in 1994 when the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 was signed into law. This made available considerably more funds for the development of RC services in the USA - $26 million in the first year alone. This is a large part of the reason that RCCs are in general much better funded in the USA than they are in other countries. The UK started establishing RCCs around the same time as they did in the USA, however now the UK centres are very much at risk, with many centres closing down and others under threat of closure - jeopardising the important service they offer.
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- List of anti-sexual assault organizations in the United States