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Rape Crisis Hotline Sees 200 Percent Surge In Calls During Kavanaugh Hearing

More volunteers have stepped up to help the hotline handle the spike in callers.

A hotline for Chicago-area survivors of sexual violence has seen a surge in callers recently.
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CHICAGO — Calls to a Chicago rape crisis hotline were up more than 200 percent Thursday.

The YWCA’s Rape Crisis Hotline saw a spike in calls on Friday, too, with 29 more callers than usual on Thursday and 13 more than usual as of noon Friday, said Debra Perry, director of YWCA’s Advocacy and Crisis Intervention Services. That’s significantly more than the hotline usually gets during weekdays, especially between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Perry said.

But the recent surge was no surprise to the hotline’s staff: They see an increase in callers every time sexual assault is in the news, Perry said.

Recent headlines have been dominated by allegations a Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, held down, groped and attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. Kavanaugh has also been accused of sexual violence by two other women.

“I do believe it has a lot do with the hearing for Judge Kavanaugh and what is going on and emotions that are bubbling up for survivors and for survivors who have never come forward … and now for the first time they know it’s safe to do so,” Perry said. “Any time that we see that there’s a sexual assault program or awareness that comes on, we know that there will always be an increase in the calls that we receive at that point.”

With sexual assault in the news, survivors might feel compelled to call the hotline so they can share their stories and seek help from the volunteers on the other end of the phone, explaining the surge, Perry said. People might also become more aware of the existence of resources like the YWCA’s hotline.

Survivors or others affected by sexual violence can call the hotline to be connected with a volunteer who will help them in moments of crisis. The service is free.

Volunteers listen to survivors and provide referrals to other services if the callers want additional support, Perry said. If someone has been recently assaulted, the hotline’s volunteers can also provide that survivor with information about how to seek medical care or obtain a rape kit.

Volunteers also determine what coping skills the caller has and then help that person find ways to relax, said Erica Washington, a YWCA therapist who has volunteered on the hotline.

“In a crisis situation, that’s really the biggest thing that you can help somebody to learn — learn how to ground themselves so whatever anxiety they’re having lessens to a point where they can cope,” Washington said.

Survivors can talk about an assault regardless of if happened hours or years before the call, and volunteers even speak with people outside the Chicago area and help them find local resources, Washington said.

All of the calls are confidential and “non-judgmental,” Perry said.

“If they want to yell, scream, cry, whatever they want to do, it’s a safe haven to do that,” Perry said. Assault in the news is “what we call a ‘trigger’ for those individuals.

“All of the sudden they may have a hard time where they can’t sleep or they’re not eating or maybe they start having startled responses again. [They’re] like, ‘I need to talk to someone.’ Because it’s a confidential hotline, they can do so safely without being judged on anything they’re telling us.”

More volunteers — the hotline has about 30 — have stepped up to help during this recent spike in calls, Perry said. The helpers are “doing an amazing job” and the hotline has been able to handle the increase, she said.

The hotline has numbers for people in Chicago, southern Cook County and DuPage County, Washington said.

Those who wish to call the hotline in Chicago can call 888-293-2080.For those interested in volunteering with the hotline, more information is available online.

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