The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center is celebrating its 50-year anniversary of providing the Lawrence community with free support, resources and education regarding sexual violence.
The Care Center is dedicated to furthering its legacy by dismantling rape culture, especially after last year’s record-breaking number of clients.
Executive Director Chrissy Heikkila said therapists, advocates and volunteers at the center worked with 900 individual victim-survivors in 2021 — more than any previous year.
Heikkila attributes this increase in participation to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates are spending more time than ever with clients to tackle their complex needs.
“People have more safety concerns. There’s been increased housing insecurity and a lack of options for safe housing and emergency housing,” Heikkila said. “Then there’s been an increase in financial concerns with loss of jobs, loss of benefits and school disruptions that have made reporting and navigating sexual violence for clients extremely challenging throughout the pandemic.”
Established in 1972, the Care Center is the oldest formalized rape crisis center in Kansas. Each service at the Care Center is free, and there is no proof of insurance or documentation status required. The center does not have any demographic requirements to access services. They welcome all identities and don’t ask clients to reveal personal information.
For services to be free and available to anyone at any time, the Care Center receives federal and state grants and funding from the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Crime Act. It also receives local support and individual donations.
Not only is confidentiality important to advocates to promote survivor-centered care, but the Care Center is also mandated by the federal government to maintain a high standard of confidentiality to keep its funding. Out of the 900 clients seen last year, approximately 400 did not provide their areas of residence. When helping people in crises, the Care Center only tracks what clients willingly share with them.
Oftentimes, clients are referred to the Care Center by law enforcement officials or hospitals. Although Care Center advocates provide criminal justice system support to survivors who wish to report crimes, reporting to law enforcement is not at all required to seek services. But survivors may choose whether they want to formally report after an incident, and the center also tends to survivors who choose to access services by calling the hotline long after an incident occurred.
“The experience of sexual violence is really about taking someone’s choice away. So our goal is to allow [survivors] to really make their own educated decisions about what they want to do about their own experience,” Heikkila said.
The four main services the center offers are therapy and support groups, 24/7 advocacy and response, Lawrence ordinance and Safe Bar Alliance training, and prevention and education. Primarily survivors of sexual assault access therapy sessions, but therapy can be helpful on a broad scale. Family members, partners and friends of survivors can also receive guidance on how to navigate their loved one’s trauma and provide the proper support.
Director of Communications Megan Engleman hopes the work at the Care Center will promote a community of people dedicated to preventing sexual violence.
“We have programs like the SafeBar Alliance that trains bar staff on how to notice predatory behavior in bars and have the power to intervene,” Engleman said. “Ultimately, we want to create a culture of consent.”
With the motto of “We’re always here,” the Care Center is dedicated to having a knowledgeable advocate available 24/7 to help in any situation, urgent or not, and answer questions. The quickest way to reach the Care Center is by calling the hotline at 785-843-8985.
The center is currently seeking community support through donations to renovate and add therapy and education rooms. Those interested may donate through the center’s website or via Venmo, @thestacarecenter.
The Care Center serves Douglas County, Franklin County and Jefferson County. Though its main office is in Lawrence, it also has offices in Oskaloosa and Ottawa.