The following is a Q&A with Kim Newell, executive director at our partner agency The Shafer Center for Crisis Intervention. Kim discusses how her agency is still providing services during the COVID-19 pandemic and what they are doing to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
UW: What is your agency’s current operating status as a result of the pandemic?
KN: We are still open and serving survivors of sexual assault, co-victims of homicide, and survivors of suicide.
UW: Who can benefit from The Shafer Center’s services?
KN: We serve victims of any age/gender. Victims of sexual violence can include child sexual abuse, adult victims of child sexual abuse, or adult sexual assault. It doesn't matter if it was reported or how long ago the assault occurred. Many people think we only serve victims right after the assault occurred.
UW: How has the pandemic affected your operations/services?
KN: Obviously, like everyone else, we have had to make adaptations. Our 24-hour Help and Support line is still functioning as normal. Our counselors and advocates are following up regularly with the survivors we serve. Our counselors are providing telehealth counseling services. Our support groups cannot meet right now and we are not sending advocates in the local emergency rooms while our community is fighting the pandemic. However, we are coordinating with ER staff to help us follow up with any victim that comes to the ER during this time.
UW: What are services or options your agency has in place during the pandemic that could help victims?
KN: We have our 24-hour Help and Support line for survivors of sexual violence and co-victims of homicide. We have licensed counselors available for these issues who can provide telehealth therapy free of charge. We have advocates available who can help victims with questions and support them through the healing and criminal justice process.
UW: What are the signs that a person may be experiencing [sexual] abuse?
KN: For sexual violence, the behavioral and emotional symptoms of trauma are sometimes very unique to each individual. While some adults, and especially children, may show few behavioral indicators immediately after the trauma, the trauma can affect the neurobiology of the brain and manifest months and even years later as post-traumatic stress. This can include a wide variety of symptoms, including extreme anxiety or depression, flashbacks to the trauma, hypervigilance or agitation, appetite and sleep changes, etc. The increased stress some people are experiencing right now can exacerbate post-traumatic response. If someone is a survivor of sexual assault – or they have lost a loved one to murder or suicide – and they are experiencing high levels of stress right now, I would encourage them to call our Help and Support Line and talk to an advocate or request a free telehealth session with one of our counselors.
UW: This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. What do you think this type of national observance or awareness means right now compared to a typical month of observance outside a global pandemic? Is awareness and prevention of this issue even more important during this time than ever?
KN: These national annual awareness campaigns help us coordinate with our partners to educate our communities about these issues and our mission.
UW: How is your agency observing this month?
KN: We did a social media campaign for National Crime Victims Rights Week April 19-25 by posting selfies of folks wearing their National Crime Victim’s Rights Week T-shirts. On April 29, we will be posting pics of folks sporting their “denim” for Denim Day, which is a national Sexual Assault Awareness Campaign. We are also trying to post educational information on our Facebook page daily regarding sexual violence awareness.
To learn more about The Shafer Center and what they do, visit theshafercenter.info.