Originally founded in 1973 to serve as a hotline center to field calls from rape survivors, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) is now one of the largest independent sexual assault crisis centers in Massachusetts.
April 1 marked the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) first implemented in 2001. In a month devoted to promoting awareness and prevention of sexual assault, the BARCC plays a prominent role in encouraging people to pay greater attention to issues regarding sexual violence.
It was not until the late ’70s, however, that the world saw its first organized protests against sexual violence. Groups of women colluded to begin a series of protests known as “Take Back the Night.”
As the years passed and awareness of violence against women grew, men joined the movement, and the collective desire for the advocacy of these issues was palpable. By the early ’80s, time in October was allotted to raise awareness and support for victims of domestic violence, but some still sought a separate time to focus on specific issues of sexual assault, which led to the establishment of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The center exists as a resource to those who experience incidents of sexual assault in any capacity. “The services are designed to help someone, whether they were sexually assaulted this week or 30 years ago,” said Gina Scaramella, executive director of BARCC. The center works with families and their survivors, and it offers its services whether one comes to it seeking help for oneself or for someone else.
Depending on each unique case, individuals require help in different capacities. In order to prepare for every possible necessity, BARCC offers a range of services, including legal, medical advocacy, counseling, groups, a hotline, case management, community services, and professional training.
Aside from offering these services, BARCC strives to effect change in the community, in both the institutions and the legislation that survivors interact with. Several years ago, the center led the effort to expand the restraining order legislation, 258E, which stated that a victim of sexual assault must have been in a significant dating relationship with his or her assailant at the time of the violence in order to obtain a restraining order against that person. Many survivors were not in that position, Scaramella explained. Many were just acquaintances. Now, victims can obtain a criminally enforceable restraining order with considerably fewer restrictions.
The BARCC’s main focus is to prevent sexual assault and then respond in ways that promote social change and healing. “I think as a rape crisis center, we are rooted in many social rights movements,” Scaramella said. “It’s important to think of sexual violence as a community issue.”
As it is now, Scaramella explained, many people are of the mind that people should report sexual crimes and rapists should be put in jail. This is not a misguided thought, she said, but it represents only one avenue for dealing with the complicated issue of sexual assault. BARCC hopes to provide support for those people who would like to report violence to law officials, but recognizes that they need to be able to provide assistance in case victims are not comfortable doing so.
“There is not a ‘one size fits all’ for these things,” Scaramella said. “We want to make sure there are many options that are viable for everyone.”
In order to determine a better sense of the presence of sexual assault on college campuses, BARCC is starting its own survey as well as a hashtag, #TellthePrez, in order to encourage college students to voice their opinions about the prevalence of sexual violence and the degree to which they feel they have the resources they need to deal with it. BARCC hopes to use the results of the survey to tell the community and campuses what they can be doing better. This, Scaramella said, is a good example of what a rape crisis center does-look at what survivors are doing and saying to make sure their voices are being heard.
Later this month, on April 13, BARCC will host its annual Walk for Change in DCR’s Artesani Park in Brighton. The event serves as an invitation for the community to support survivors, and although the center is already expecting 200,000 walkers this year, it can always do with more. Those who are interested in signing up can visit BARCC’s website, barcc.org, or visit the BARC Facebook and Twitter pages.
BARCC will also host its annual Clothesline Project in South Station-a visual project featuring a series of pieces of clothing upon which survivors of sexual violence have written their stories in order to aid their own healing process as well as educate the public and call for social change.