Feature Archive

Is the Silence Broken?

30 years after rape crisis centers, women are being heard.

WebMD Feature

March 27, 2000 (Berkeley, Calif.) -- More than once a minute, 78 times an hour, 1,871 times a day, girls and women in America are raped.

When this traumatic event happens to a woman in the vicinity of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., now she'll be spared the glaring lights of the ER.

Instead, while she goes through the necessary medical treatment, evidence gathering, and questioning by police, she'll be cared for in a softly lit room with comfortable furnishings and pastel-painted walls.

The team of medical personnel -- including specially trained female nurses who collect evidence using state-of-the-art equipment -- will do what they need to do, but will also pay close attention to the emotional needs of the survivor, whether she's 15 or 45. The full spectrum of care will be on hand, from trained counselors to practical amenities such as fresh clothing and toiletries.

Much has changed since the first rape crisis centers sprang up 30 years ago in the wake of the "Break the Silence" movement that began in New York. The message was a profound and powerful one, says Marybeth Carter of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA): Rape affects all of us, and you are not alone.

Out of that early movement came the early hotlines, staffed at first by untrained volunteers. Then in 1974, realizing that women who had been raped had nowhere to turn for help, Gail Abarbanel founded the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica, Calif., offering psychological intervention as well as medical help.