As the #MeToo movement has gathered steam over the last year, local and national sexual assault resource hotlines have seen a large increase in calls and services — especially during the late September hearings with Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
According to King County Sexual Assault Resource Director Mary Ellen Stone, KCSARC has seen “a pretty dramatic increase for services overall” between October 2017 and September 2018. “Every single service is up.”
The organization shared the news with the public on Wednesday, Oct. 24, during a fundraiser in Renton.
KCSARC said their call volume increased 47 percent over the last year, rising from around 1,700 or 1,800 calls from October 2016 to Sept. 2017 to more than 2,600 calls during these last 11 months. Overall services, which include counseling, increased over 20 percent.
But the week after hearings — which occurred Sept. 27 — Stone estimates call volume jumped “300 percent” over the same time period the year before, though the department is still collecting specific call data from early October.
“Things understandably dropped off, but we continue to see a real surge in interest in the work that we are doing and we’re continuing to hear from more survivors than is typical for us,” Stone said.
When people call KCSARC’s 24/7 hotline, they can expect a trained counselor to answer and help the caller in a variety of ways. Some seek further services, Stone said, and KCSARC’s counselors can help them sort out what those next steps could be.
But many, she continued, just want to be listened to and validated.
“For many people, this was one of the first times they ever told this story,” Stone said, adding that KCSARC always hears from a wide range of people of various ages, but after the hearings, “we’re hearing a lot more from people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s saying, ‘This never happened to me and I never told anybody. But now I want you to know that I exist, and it still impacts me.’”
The Pierce County Sexual Assault Center (also known at Rebuilding Hope) is also still collecting call data from the end of September and beginning of October, but Director of Advocacy and Prevention Education Tate Bates said the agency did experience an uptick in calls for services during that time period and “took notice that callers who may not have felt empowered to come forward to discuss their histories of sexual abuse or assault or access services did so during the period of the Kavanaugh hearings.”
“I would say that because of social movements that have gained traction in the last few years, such as the #MeToo movement, we are witnessing a shift in the public’s awareness of sexual violence,” Tate continued. “I believe that people from every age group, race and ethnic group, socioeconomic status, gender and sexual orientation and ability level are sharing their stories and creating a culture that hopes to expose the extent of sexual violence in an effort to end it.”
It’s not just local sexual assault resource centers that experienced higher call volume during the Kavanaugh hearing — the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network’s (RAINN) 24/7 hotline say a 338 percent increase in traffic between the start of the hearing through that Sunday.
“Friday, September 28, was the busiest day in the 24-year history of the National Sexual Assault Hotline, with more than 3,000 people receiving help,” RAINN stated in an Oct. 1 press release.
RAINN also reported they helped close to 29,000 survivors last September, in comparison to only 18,000 in September 2017.
“History shows us that when high-profile allegations such as these are in the news it often causes others to reach out too. This story has clearly resonated with survivors, and has led thousands to reach out for help for the first time,” RAINN president Scott Berkowitz said, referring to the Kavanaugh hearing. “Over this past year, following the cases of Weinstein and Cosby and the explosion of #MeToo, our numbers have been growing pretty rapidly, but we’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Back on the local level, Stone said she’s proud of her staff for being able to handle the increased number of calls and services on their system.
“It was an intense time for us as an organization,” she said. “And it still is, because the demand is much higher, and our staff are strained all the way around.”
She added that she’s grateful donors have been “very generous this year, as our services have never been more needed,” but additional financial — and physical — aid is always appreciated.
Approximately 25 percent of KCSARC’s budget comes from individuals and private businesses, Stone continued. “That funding is extremely important, because it helps us move forward with some initiatives that often are only partially funded by government grants.”
She hopes people will think about their donating funds to local sexual assault resource centers as the holidays creep closer and “end-of-the-year giving” crops up in their minds.
But she also hopes that people know that KCSARC, Rebuilding Hope and RAINN are out there as resources for them, and continue to spread the word about them and the services they provide to both survivors and their loved ones.
“In this time, so many people are talking about sexual assault, and people maybe are hearing from their own friends and family, ‘This happened to me 20 years ago, 30 years ago,’” she said. “Use us as a resource. Give us a call.”
KCSARC, Rebuilding Hope, and RAINN each have their own 24/7 hotline.
• King County: 888-988-6423
• Pierce County: 1-800-756-7273
• National hotline: 800-656-4637