Rape Crisis Team provides refuge to victims of rape and sexual assault

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Addie Blacker
The Rape Crisis Center part of The Refuge Utah is a center that provides resources and help for those who are victims and survivors of sexual abuse and/or rape. (Addie Blacker)

Orem’s volunteer Rape Crisis Team is a vital resource for those in Utah County who are victims of sexual assault and rape.

The Rape Crisis Team is a part of The Refuge Utah, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic abuse, stalking, sexual assault and rape.

Utah ranks No. 11 for having the most rape cases per capita in the U.S., and rape is the only violent crime with rates higher than the national average in Utah.

“There is a higher number of rape cases of BYU students that occur off-campus than on-campus,” said Refuge Utah sexual assault services director Lori Jenkins.

To help victims of rape and sexual assault, The Refuge offers emotional and psychological support through trained volunteers, therapy groups and a 24-hour sexual assault services hotline.

When someone is sexually assaulted, they are encouraged to get a forensic exam at the hospital (called a “rape kit”) to collect evidence and provide any necessary medical care.

The team of volunteers, consisting of both BYU students and other Utah residents, are assigned 24-hour shifts in which they can be called to the hospital at any time to help a rape or sexual assault victim.

“Our Sexual Assault Services program has over 80 volunteers that serve on the Rape Crisis Team as Victim Advocates that answer the 24/7 crisis line and assist victims at the hospital during the forensic sexual assault exam that can take place at the BYU Health Center or at any ER in Utah County,” Jenkins said.

The volunteers work in pairs during the 24-hour shift and one person is usually assigned to be a “primary advocate” in which they help the main victim. The “secondary advocate” helps with the secondary victims that may include family members or friends of the victim.

“We’re their advocate and we help them with any questions to make the whole experience a little bit less overwhelming. We make sure that they have snacks, clothes, blankets and anything they need,” said BYU student and Rape Crisis Team volunteer Ethan Lowe.

For those who have been raped or sexually assaulted, any service or examination including the rape kit, is paid for by the state of Utah.

“If someone is sexually assaulted, whether it’s yourself, a friend or sibling, they can go to any emergency room in Utah County. If you’ve been sexually assaulted and would like an exam, you do not have to pay one penny,” Jenkins said.

While the center provides an immediate response for the sexual assault survivors, it also supplies longer-term post-incident mental and emotional support.

“We also make sure they have access to the resources they need going forward, away from the hospital so that they can recover from the terrible things that had happened to them,” Lowe said.

Jenkins said most of all, the center aims to connect victims with services and help them understand that they are not alone. “It is not their fault, and we can help.”

“The first step to change is just acknowledging that this is a real problem that exists in Utah, or ‘Happy Valley,’ and we need to stand up for consent and for women’s rights,” said BYU student and Rape Crisis Center volunteer Hannah Nelson.

Anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted can contact the 24/7 Rape Crisis Center hotline at 801-356-2511 or 1-888-421-1100.

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