2018-11-01 / Features

Centre Safe

New Name Reflects Old Mission — To Give Everyone a Safe Space
Stephanie Koons

Last month, a table set for 15 sat empty at the Centre County Courthouse. Each place had a plate, fork, spoon and glass, but each was missing something. No chairs were necessary at this table because each place setting represented the 14 Centre County women — and one place to symbolize those we don’t know about — lost to domestic violence in the last 20 years.

The display, titled “Domestic Violence Leaves an Empty Place at the Table,” kicked off Domestic Violence Awareness Month — and a new campaign for a local group working to eliminate domestic and sexual violence.

In 1975, a small group of women in State College had a vision for creating a safe space for victims of sexual and domestic violence. They founded the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, which has been a powerful advocacy group for women in the community and society at large for more than 40 years.

In recent years, however, there has been an increasing awareness that men are also victims of sexual abuse and violence and that they are entitled to the same resources as female survivors. Local events and national movements have also caused the organization to broaden its scope.

As part of an effort to accurately reflect its inclusive philosophy, the Centre County Women’s Resource Center has adopted a new name — Centre Safe: Empowering Survivors & Eliminating Violence.

“The goal is to tie the name directly to our mission,” says Anne Ard, executive director of Centre Safe.  “And our mission is to empower survivors of domestic and sexual violence, dating violence and stalking, and to work towards the elimination of that violence.”

Centre Safe works to achieve that mission through a combination of advocacy, services (including a 24-hour crisis hotline, an emergency shelter and support groups) and education. The center also offers a transitional housing program to those who are homeless or at risk for homelessness due to fleeing domestic or dating violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Over the course of a two-year period of focus groups and surveys, the organization’s board of directors discovered that while the community had a mostly positive impression of the center, it was largely unaware of its wide-ranging services for men, children and people from outside Centre County.

“At that point, the board decided that we really needed to explore a name change very intentionally,” Ard says.

The new logo showcases the new name paired with the mission.The new logo showcases the new name paired with the mission.

According to Ard, the #MeToo movement (a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault that spread virally beginning in October 2017) and changing gender norms have been instrumental in increasing societal support for reporting sexual abuse and seeking help.

“In the past five years, we’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of sexual assault victims generally that we have been serving; the numbers have almost doubled,” she says.

Unfortunately, tragedy has also played a role in how Centre Safe has expanded its mission. The Centre County Child Access Center (CAC) was created through a community collaboration led by Judge Thomas Kistler in 2007 in response to the murder of State College resident Jodi Warshaw Barone by her estranged husband during what was supposed to be a routine custody exchange in a convenience store parking lot in Mill Hall. The CAC’s mission is to provide a safe and supportive environment for monitored custody exchanges and supervised visitations.

“I think the name change for us just continues to reflect our responsiveness to what the community is telling us they need,” Ard says.

According to Ard, a growing awareness of the prevalence of male sexual abuse began several years ago around the time of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. In late 2011, Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach for the Penn State football team, was indicted on 52 counts of child molestation and was sentenced on Oct. 9, 2012, to a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of 60 years in prison.

“(The name change) first came up right after the Sandusky scandal,” Ard says. “We knew that there were adult male survivors of sexual violence who were in our community and who were probably not being served adequately.”

In 2013, the National Crime Victimization Survey unveiled a startling statistic. After surveying 40,000 households about rape and sexual violence, the researchers found that 38 percent of incidents were against men. At least 1 in 6 men has been sexually abused or assaulted, according to 1in6, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences. 

And yet, according to Ard, there is a dearth of male sexual assault support groups, and male victims remain largely unaware of the services that are available to them.

“That means there’s a tremendously underrepresented group that needs services,” she says. “Rape crisis centers provide services, but people don’t know about them. Female survivors know we’re here.”

According to Ard, many male victims of sexual abuse and violence may be hesitant to seek help due to societal notions of masculinity.

“In some ways, the impact of trauma is similar (to women). On the other hand, we live in a society that pays very close attention to pretty rigid gender roles.”

At Centre Safe, the Male Support Group-Child Sexual Abuse provides a safe and confidential outlet for participants to discuss childhood sexual abuse and issues surrounding sexual abuse and violence.

“The male survivor support group is not exclusive to those who are biologically male; people who are transgender or gender non-conforming are welcome to join in this group or our women’s group, whichever is most comfortable for them,” says Jordan Gibby, a facilitator of the support group. “By having a separate male survivor group, we are able to focus on the ways in which a survivor’s experiences of abuse have also been influenced by societal pressures to live up to unhealthy masculine norms, whether or not the survivor self-identifies as male.”

One of the main benefits of the male support group, Gibby says, is that it helps reduce the feelings of isolation and shame that are common among male sexual abuse survivors. Men generally come out with their experiences about 20 years later than female victims, he added.

“The more we talk about it, the better things can get,” Gibby says. “We need to allow men to feel and to ask for help, to not have to do everything on their own.”

According to Ard, people can help all sexual abuse victims start the path to healing by simply believing them.

“One of the things that is very powerful for survivors across the board is being able to name their experience and talk about it,” she says. “To tell a survivor, ‘I believe what happened to you,’ is one of the most powerful things you can say.” • SCM

Anyone who has experienced sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking can seek immediate assistance by calling Centre Safe’s 24-Hour Hotline at 877-234-5050 toll-free or 814-234-5050 locally.

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