woman was raped in Savannah in 1974. Like thousands
of victims before her, she soon discovered that the “system” was
not sensitive to the trauma she was going through and
there were no services designed for women who were
raped. Fortunately, she had a strong support system of
Many of those friends were members of N.O.W. (National
Organization for Women) and were aware of the grassroots
movement of establishing Rape Crisis Centers. They
began by conducting interviews with the various agencies
with victims and took a survey to assess the need.
In August 1975, the first group of volunteers was ready
and the telephone crisis line was opened.
Those first seven years (1975-1982), volunteers
operated out of their homes to cover the 24 hour crisis
line and to advocate for victims. The process of advocating
led to increased awareness of the needs of victims and
the Rape Crisis Center became involved in training hospital
personnel, the police, and the District Attorney’s
Office. Changes in the system were made and there was
increased sensitivity to victims. The volunteers were
also engaged in public speaking and publicity to increase
rape awareness. This small group had very limited resources
but an ever-present determination to make a difference.
In 1982, the Department of Public Health
notified our volunteer leadership that there was federal
grant money available for rape crisis services. We wrote
a grant proposal and it was approved. This gave us the
incentive to seek additional funds so that we could be
more firmly established. Funds were requested from the
City of Savannah and Chatham County and were approved
in 1983. An Executive Director was employed, an office
established, and a Board of Directors began the tasks
of writing by-laws and policies, increasing publicity,
and promoting fund raising activities.
During the first year as an established
agency, the Rape Crisis Center was evaluated by a Study
Committee from United Way and was found to meet their
guidelines for admission in 1984. Our services were also
expanded to offer support groups for rape and incest
survivors. The Rape Crisis Center increased speaking
engagements from 18 in 1982 to 69 in 1983 and provided
professional training to other agencies.
The next two years showed steady increases
in funding, staff, and services. We also sponsored a “Take
Back the Night” march and a conference entitled “Coping
after Sexual Assault". Brochures and handbooks were
published and the volunteer force was increased to 60
participants. We developed prevention curriculums for
various age groups. Additional support groups were offered
as the demand for them increased. A self-defense class
for women was developed.
Three decades later, the Rape Crisis Center
is well established as a comprehensive agency serving
Savannah and the surrounding area. Each year, the Rape
Crisis Center reaches approximately 700 victims including
adults, child victims, and family members of victims.
Our crisis intervention programs now include SART (Sexual
Assault Response Team) and SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse
Examiners), which makes the reporting process much more
responsive to the victim. An additional 15,000 people
are reached each year with the various prevention programs
for all ages, such as Good Touch/Bad Touch, Bullying
Prevention, Rape Awareness, and self-defense classes.
We’ve come a long way! However, rape
continues to be an ever-present problem that affects
hundreds in our community every year. We must continue
to face the challenge!