Sex assault crisis center finds reason to celebrate Fund-raiser is time to recall efforts

October 01, 1993|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Staff Writer

It was early one Saturday morning when Brooke Slunt got the call through the Howard County Sexual Assault Center: A 13-year-old girl reporting her uncle had raped her.

"He had gone to the store to buy more alcohol when she called," recalled Ms. Slunt, now the center's education and training specialist, who was a volunteer the day that call came in.

"Before I could get her name, she had to hang up because he came back."

Ms. Slunt waited four hours for the girl to call back, "the longest four hours I have ever spent," she said. When she did, police matched her phone number with a Baltimore address and arrested the uncle.

It's the kind of story workers at the Columbia-based Sexual Assault Center hear thousands of times a year as counselors for victims of abuse.

Tonight, the center's staff and volunteers get a badly needed morale boost at the group's annual fund-raiser, featuring four political satirists known as the Montana Logging and Ballet Company.

The nationally acclaimed foursome, which has performed for the U.S. Congress and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, makes its third annual appearance in Howard County to benefit the center, starting at 8 p.m. at Centennial High School.

Using a mixture of songs, skits and improvisational comedy, the group is expected to satirize politicians and news-makers on issues including health care, the economy and race relations.

It's an event Ms. Slunt and other Sexual Assault Center workers view as a welcome respite from the tragedy-filled and emotionally draining work of the crisis center.

Nearly 20 years old, the center has a 12-member paid staff, 30 volunteers to assist with hot line calls, seven contract staff members and 20 board members to oversee it all.

Staff members support sexual assault victims from the time they enter the emergency room for treatment through lengthy court proceedings, where lawyers rehash the details of an assault.

"There's a lot of fear," said Joy Teague, the center's office administrator. "A lot of them [victims] don't understand the terminology used in the courtroom. Then they have to face the offender, again."

To help the victims cope, the center offers individual and group counseling sessions.

Between July 1992 and June 1993, the center held 1,808 individual and 76 group sessions for victims, and 442 sessions for victims' parents.

Staff members also made 45 visits to emergency rooms with rape victims, said Nancy Prinkey, the center's clinical coordinator.

The center also offers educational programs to schools, police departments and other organizations. County, state and federal money provides most of the funds for the center's $350,000 budget.

Much of the emergency counseling is handled by volunteers taking telephone calls referred to their homes by the center's 24-hour hot line, such as the call from the 13-year-old to Ms. Slunt five years ago.

The volunteers carry pagers and work one of three daily shifts, three times a month.

"You have to be the kind of person whose heart goes out to everybody," Ms. Slunt said.

Through that hot line, volunteers received 510 crisis intervention calls between July 1992 and June 1993 from sexual assault victims or their family members.

Jane Bucks is one such volunteer.

She joined the staff three months ago after serving as a member of the center's board of directors for three years. On the board, she oversaw the Montana Logging and Ballet Company fund-raisers that she had proposed.

After a 26-hour training course, which included role playing, speakers and films about sexual assaults, she was handed a pager and a work schedule.

Even that training sometimes leaves volunteers unprepared for the tragic stories they hear when they pick up the telephone.

Ms. Bucks recalls a call she once received from someone who reported her daughter had been molested by another little girl.

It's not easy work, Ms. Bucks said. "You don't always have any guarantee that you have helped. But when you do help, this is a very powerful way of affirming goodness."

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