Most women never report sexual assault crimes. And of the few who do report the attacks, even fewer are willing to come forward and acknowledge the attacks.
But last night, about 60 "survivors" of rape and incest attacks came forward with their relatives and friends to fight for the NTC survival of the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center in Towson. Holding signs that read "No Cuts" and "Who Will She Call?" both women and men came forward to speak for the preservation of sexual assault centers.
The victims of rape said they wanted to be identified. It was their way of showing their commitment to the centers.
"Four years ago, I became a victim of rape," said Gail Kaplan, 51, and a former center client. "Four years ago I became a survivor. I became a survivor because of the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center."
Under Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to balance the state budget, 17 rape crisis and sexual assault centers will have their budgets cut by half or more, said Sandra Clapper, community educator for the center. The Towson center will have its budget slashed by 89 percent.
"This will virtually put us out of business," Clapper said.
In Howard County, Lisa Goshen at the Howard County Sexual Assault Center, said the loss of $70,000 in state funds means the center will have to severely curtail its operations as of Jan. 1. She pointed out that 1,800 victims or family members call the 24-hour hotline every year. Victims receive more than 2,000 counseling sessions.
If the cuts go through, Goshen said in a press release, large numbers of victims will receive no service, and prevention education will become non-existent.
Clapper said the potential closings of centers have been under-reported in comparison with the layoffs of the state
troopers. It is for that reason so many of the former and current clients were willing to come forward and speak out in hopes of drawing enough attention to save the centers.
"All I had to do was make a few calls," Clapper said. "These women really wanted to be here. They feel very deeply about what's happening. They are willing to take the risk and come forward."
A 25-year-old woman who was a victim of incest said she had tried to discuss the closing of the centers with some of her co-workers but found that the topic made them uncomfortable. She said she believes the reason the centers have not gotten the attention of the trooper layoffs is because rape and incest make a lot of people uncomfortable.
"If they want to know discomfort, they should talk to us," she said.
Kaplan, standing among both former and current clients of the center, told how she never would have survived without the help she received from the center.
"No one can survive on their own," Kaplan said. "I had the support of [my husband], my children. I had all the help I needed. Yet I still needed help to wake up everyday. Without this center, I don't know what I would have done."
Kaplan, who said she does not blame the governor but blames the legislators, said the state must "bite the bullet" and increase sales and nuisance taxes if it will save social programs such as the center.
Tracey Wollman, a rape victim, held a sign that read "Society Raped Us Of Our Own Safety. Schaefer is Raping Us Of Our Healing."
"This center was the backbone to keeping me alive," Wollman said, tears in her eyes. "I spent many hours getting support from the Sexual Assault Center. I spent a lot of time calling the center at 2 a.m. many nights in a row."
Linda Auerback, Wollman's aunt, said that had it not been for the center, she's not sure her niece would be alive today.
"Do you know how many lives they have saved?" Auerback asked. "Had it not been for the hotline, I don't know what would have happened to Tracey. She called them when she was at a point in her life when she didn't think she could come to her family. I don't know what would have happened without them."
Colleen Cross, 29, said she finally got the courage to come forth and report her rape last February. But when she did come forward, she said she found that there was not a therapist available to see her because of the already minimal budgets the centers work on. A Hunt Valley resident, Cross said she had to go to a Carroll County center to find a support group.
Cross said when she learned of the proposed cuts to the center last Tuesday night, she drove to the Carroll center again for support.
The governor may be using the threat of budget cuts to social service projects to stir people, Cross said. However, she said, she does appreciate his methods.
"I just keep thinking how this feels so similar to some place I've been before," Cross said. "I didn't like being used when I was raped. I don't like being used now."