June 24, 2018
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Budget cuts won’t affect clients of sexual assault center

By Angel Matson, Special to the BDN

Rape Crisis Assistance and Prevention, a Waterville-based nonprofit agency that provided services to victims of sexual violence in northern Kennebec and Somerset counties for 25 years, closed its doors Dec. 31. In explaining the closure, agency officials cited financial difficulties due in large part to the national economic recession.

Darcy Shargo, former executive director of that Waterville center, said the agency’s closure is all the more disheartening because incidents of rape and sexual assault appear to be increasing as the economy worsens. Nevertheless, the work still goes on, she said.

Nearly one in five adult Maine residents have been the victim of rape or attempted rape, and incidents of rape and sexual assault lead to higher instances of other social problems and consequences, according to the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Residents of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties continue to be served by their local sexual assault center, Rape Response Services. The board and staff of Rape Response Services recognize the significant challenges of these economic times. In an effort to respond to these challenges, Rape Response Services became a subsidiary of Penquis in 2008 to increase its capacity to advocate for the needs of victims and continue its commitment to provide essential crisis and prevention services. Although federal and state aid has decreased in recent years, Rape Response Services does not charge its clients for any of its services, nor does it receive reimbursement from insurance companies.

Rape Response Services has served the two-county area for 20 years, beginning as a small, grass-roots group of caring individuals looking to make a difference in the lives of sexual assault victims. Tamar Mathieu, executive director of Rape Response Services, said, “While it remains a vital part of our mission to respond to the needs of those who have been affected by sexual violence and to empower survivors, it is just as important for us to work toward an end to sexual violence. Through prevention work, community education and valued community partnerships we are committed to creating communities where meaningful social change is possible.”

Rape Response Services is a Bangor-based organization with a satellite office in Dover-Foxcroft. Since its incorporation in 1988, the agency has expanded to provide education and prevention programming in area schools, as well as support groups, professional training and coordination of the area’s Sexual Assault Response Team. Assisted also by volunteers, the agency helps victims in many ways, such as accompanying them to hospitals, police departments and court.

Rape Response Services believes in a comprehensive vision of sexual violence prevention. The organization prides itself on the extensive prevention and education outreach work. This focus on prevention has evolved over the years to include representation in two-thirds of the school departments in the organization’s catchment area of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties. Community outreach educators present age appropriate material in classroom settings to students of all ages.

Community outreach educators for the agency coordinate the prevention efforts for the two-county area. In addition to school-based programming, educators are available to conduct workshops for parent organizations, community groups and in faith-based settings. All of the education and prevention services are available free of charge and can be tailored to meet the needs of the audience.

In conducting workshops, I have observed that some young people believe change is possible and take action accordingly; others are aware of community problems but only occasionally try to do something about them. Our workshops aim to show students that their interactions with others can be more respectful and less judgmental, thus creating an environment conducive to eradicating sexual violence.

Anyone interested in scheduling a presentation may reach Matson at amatson@penquis.org or by calling 973-3662 or 800-215-4942, ext. 662.

People living in or near Penobscot or Piscataquis counties may call the agency’s confidential hot line by dialing 800-310-0000. The hot line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, connecting a caller with an advocate who has received specialized training to meet the needs of anyone whose life has been directly or indirectly affected by sexual violence. For more information about the organization, visit www.rrsonline.org.

Angel Matson is a community outreach educator for Rape Response Services in Bangor.

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