“My daughter was sexually assaulted on campus, and I can’t sleep at night.”
“I just turned 75 and this #MeToo campaign has made me realize that what has happened to me was sexual assault.”
“I’m having a flashback to abuse.”
These are all valid reasons to call the Rape Crisis Center, said executive director Erin Thornley-Parisi.
The RCC and the Madison Police Department want everyone to know they can contact the police or RCC for any type of sexual assault, harassment or abuse, “no matter when that assault occurred, and whether they want to report to police or not.” That's the message of a new PSA called “We Believe You."
“We're here for anybody in the community who wants to process sexual violence,” Thornley-Parisi said. “You will be believed if you tell us. (You will) be heard and receive the care and services and emotional support that you need.”
The RCC only works with the police when victims choose to do so, she said. But if the victim does want to speak with police, there may be legal action the police can take, said Detective Julie Johnson, an MPD Special Victims Unit detective.
Victims may call years after the fact and say, "Well, you probably won't do anything about this,” Johnson said. What they don’t realize is that some sex crimes have longer statute of limitations, because the state realizes people don’t always report sexual abuse right away, she said.
“It’s a scary thing to call a cop, especially when you’re already traumatized by an incident,” Johnson said. “We can just tell them, here’s what you can do, here are your options.”
Given the recent #MeToo movement, it may seem like the idea for the PSA was generated by news stories about victims coming forward years later to accuse high-profile men of sexual assault. But the idea for the campaign actually came about several years ago, Thornley-Parisi said.
Police increasingly came across cases of sexual abuse where the perpetrator likely abused other victims who never came forward.
“It’s rare for somebody to assault just one person; they’ll keep going until they get caught,” Thornley-Parisi said.
Police officers regularly hear statements like, “I didn’t seek help for this because it happened a long time ago,” and “Time has passed and I don’t think anybody would believe me,” Thornley-Parisi said.
“We wanted to reach out to the public to say hey, you can come talk to us at any time,” Thornley-Parisi said.
The PSA premiered at a recent #MeToo event at the Majestic Theater. The #MeToo movement is bringing many of these issues to the public eye, and created great timing for the PSA, Thornley-Parisi said.
“What we talk about every day, all day, the world is finally allowing it to be spoken out loud,” Thornley-Parisi said.
The PSA also falls under the RCC’s larger effort to help the community understand that even though the organization is named the “Rape Crisis Center,” victims could have experienced forms of abuse other than rape and don’t need to be in crisis to access services, Thornley-Parisi said.
This is especially important because most victims will not label an act as “rape” unless it’s a violent stranger assault accompanied by another crime, Thornley-Parisi said. Society tries to say that anything else “is not a big deal,” and that silences victims who think their experience wasn’t “bad enough” to report or seek treatment, she said.
RCC actually looked into changing their name, but the surveys showed that the name recognition was strong, she said. Instead, they’ve put a lot of time and money into outreach, including hiring community outreach specialists for the African-American and Latino communities, billboards, and now the PSA.
“Our job isn’t just to serve those who walk through our doors or call our helpline,” she said. “It’s to serve every victim of sexual assault in Dane County,” she said. “If I could, I would go door to door.”