Crisis Center Workers Say Sexual Assault Services Are in Greater Demand Lately


These shirts, photographed on campus last week, were included in the annual Clothesline Project that encourages awareness and discussion about sexual assault. Photos courtesy of Sophie Thompson

By Rachel Berry

Ever since Brett Kavanaugh’s senate confirmation hearing, area crisis centers have had an increased number of sexual assault reports, and there has been an overall increase in conversations about the topic.

Christine Blasey Ford, a professor and research psychologist, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh, a nominee to the Supreme Court, sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. More than 20 million people watched the hearing on Sept. 27, according to CBS News. Kavanaugh, who denied the charges, was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in Oct. 6.

In the wake Ford’s testimony, people have been coming forward all over the country to report sexual assaults, many of which occurred decades ago. CSPAN prompted people to call and tell their own stories of sexual assault.

The Huffington Post reported that the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline saw a 738 percent increase in calls the Friday after Kavanaugh and Ford gave their testimony. The National Sexual Assault Hotline, run by RAINN, received 3,000 calls that day, which makes it the busiest day in their history.

Calls have been coming in locally as well. Sierra Clippinger, Miami University’s representative from Women Helping Women, said the Butler County hotline has been receiving more calls in recent weeks but declined to specify an exact number. She also said when she meets with survivors of assault, she has been spending more time with them than she did in the past.

“The students’ needs are more, so I’m spending more time with them,” Clippinger said referring to a change that has occurred recently with her clients. “Their accommodations are more lengthy than just having a one-on-one with somebody and then I never see them again; we usually spend months going back and forth talking.”

The Oxford Police Department (OPD) and Miami University Police Department (MUPD) have had a total of nine reports of sexual assault so far this semester, which is significantly higher than usual.

Greater Awareness

In addition to the increased number of people reporting assaults, awareness has also increased, and the public perception is slowly shifting, gender justice advocate Nadia Dawisha said.

“The awareness…[will] move our society forward,” Dawisha, of Oxford, said. “It’s going to push that societal shift that we really need. It’s going to open eyes.”

Dawisha runs a Facebook page based on confronting rape culture and providing resources to survivors of sexual assault. She is hoping to turn her page into a nonprofit in the near future with the purpose of launching campaigns to hold government officials accountable in regards to sexual assault and gender-based violence.

Personally knowing someone affected can also help people to be able to sympathize with survivors.

“When people are able to tell their stories and say ‘hey this happened to me’…others will start to, hopefully, say and believe that ‘if it happened to my best friend or it happened to my sister or my mom or my daughter or son maybe it could happen to anyone,’” said Terri Nelson, a social work professor at Miami specializing in sexual trauma.

Discussion Might Help or Might Re-Traumatize

Miami also is trying to increase awareness and encourage discussions. Last week from October 3-5, the annual Clothesline Project displayed people’s experiences with assault through words written on t-shirts that were displayed by the seal.

“The act of creating a t-shirt message is, I think, empowering,” said Jane Goettsch, director of the Women’s Center at Miami.

However, amidst all this conversation, Dawisha is concerned survivors might be triggered.

“I just am worried because I always feel like survivors should be coping with their trauma and coming forward, coming to terms with their trauma on their own terms…We live in a highly media-[centric] age, and it’s really hard to escape,” Dawisha said.

She said even if people avoid the news, the conversation about the Kavanaugh hearings has been prominent both on social media and in conversations between friends and family. Even if people hadn’t been following the hearings and the senate vote, she said they were still likely to have been exposed to conversations about Ford and Kavanaugh, with people giving their opinions and possibly not being aware that a sexual assault survivor is in the room.

“It’s hard to say what the overall impact [is, but there are] probably many impacts different for each person, certainly some retraumatizing which is negative but hopefully some positive came out of her bravery too,” Goettsch said.

Miami President Gregory Crawford sent out an email expressing his concern over the issue and his determination to fight to end sexual assaults on Miami’s campus.

“Let me be clear: one sexual assault on our campus is one too many,” Crawford wrote. “Sexual assault and sexual violence have no place on our campuses or in our community. I stand side-by-side with all Miamians as we work to create solutions that promote the safety and well-being of all members of our university communities.”

Confidential Sexual Assault Resources Include:
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
Butler County Women Helping Women hotline: 513-381-5610

For Miami University:
Sierra Clippinger, Women Helping Women:
513-431-1111, [email protected]
Student Counseling Services: 513-529-4634
Student Health Services: 513-529-3000

To report an assault to the police:
Oxford Police Department: 513-523-4321
Miami University Police Department: 513-519-2222