Concerts provide counseling groups with venue to reach those in need

Women more inclined to reveal secrets at shows

August 26, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

As Toni Blackman's band played on stage, Denise Baughman escaped from the music and walked up to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network table and grabbed a business card.

Baughman, 25, of Hagerstown was thinking about a co-worker in an abusive relationship. The card promised confidential help 24 hours a day. "Maybe we should put it up in a locker?" she asked a friend.

Scores of women visited RAINN's table at the Lilith Fair concert last month at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, and RAINN was scheduled to be present again last night for a performance by one of the group's founders, Tori Amos, an assault victim and musician.

Sexual assault counselors are turning to concerts as a way to reach the growing number of young victims who are unaware of or unwilling to go to centers or hospitals, and who might not want to talk to their families. With music playing and funnel cake stands in the background, some concert goers unexpectedly divulge details of a personal trauma to strangers.

"I've been at health fairs and seen people walk away. We see many more people here," said Nicole White, a community educator for the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Annapolis who helped staff RAINN's table. "I understand it. There is such a taboo."

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that one of six women will be sexually assaulted sometime in their life. Most will be younger than age 25. About a quarter of the crimes are committed by nonrelatives close to the victim. Statewide, 326 rapes were reported in the first three months of the year, compared with 438 for the same period last year.

One reason for the tables is to reach people who have not reported crimes to police.

Lilith Fair drew about 13,000 female patrons. In one two-hour period, 100 women approached the RAINN table. Three told their stories of being assaulted sexually. Nearly everyone else said they knew someone who had been assaulted.

Some were afraid to make eye contact with the counselors. Others returned several times, alone. Men stopped and didn't know what to say. Often, they dropped money in the donation jar.

RAINN began setting up tables at Tori Amos concerts in 1995, intending to provide information. But, to organizers' surprise, they learned they needed to provide more.

"It was not until we got there that we discovered there was an unusually high demand" for counselors, said Scott Berkowitz, RAINN president and co-founder. "It's really an interesting phenomenon."

RAINN runs the only national hot line number for sexual assault victims. Callers are referred to local resources. At concerts, RAINN and area counselors are available.

No one could explain why women were so willing to talk with counselors at Lilith Fair. Some counselors who have attended concerts say it's because so many women attended. Others thought it was the best time to speak up.

Mary Jo Moon, 43, a RAINN board member and rape victim, said the "best time" can be unexpected.

"It never occurred to me to talk about it because [the rapist] told me I was bad," said Moon. "It just popped out of my mouth [14 years after the incident], and I was horrified I said it. But I think any time you can get past that, the healing begins."

Officials said they have noticed a growing number of 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds approaching RAINN tables at concerts. Some say it may be because they are the first generation of women educated at school about how to openly talk about sexual assault, a concept that developed nationally in the early 1990s. In that time, the definition of sexual assault has become more clearly defined in school education, said Ronald A. Peiffer, an assistant superintendent for the State Department of Education.

Pub Date: 8/26/99

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