The Refuge Utah rape crisis center accepts volunteers


Tucked away beneath the mouth of the Provo Canyon stands The Refuge Utah — a crisis center for survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence, rape or stalking — and BYU students are invited to help the cause.

The Refuge Utah is located in Orem, just before the entrance into Provo Canyon. The center offers a variety of classes and resources. (Megan Sibley)

Human development major Savannah Christensen is one such student. After watching her mom volunteer at the center for years, she decided to follow in her footsteps. She said her desire to volunteer stemmed from her mom’s example and dating safety wisdom.

“She would be like, ‘Dating apps are dangerous. If you go on a dating app, you need to meet that person in a public place, drive yourself,’” Christensen said. “You’re more likely to get raped or sexually assaulted by somebody you know. … The likelihood of someone jumping out of the bushes is so low.” 

Since completing her 40-hour victims advocate training last May, Christensen has gone on-call for 24 hours at a time, waiting to be summoned to the hospital where she can aid survivors in the immediate aftermath of their assaults. 

Advocate training teaches volunteers trauma-informed care, as directed by BYU associate professor of learning Julie Valentine. Trauma-informed care focuses on four main tenants, dubbed “the four Rs”: realizing the possibility of trauma, recognizing the signs of trauma, responding to it and resisting re-traumatization.

Valentine was recently awarded the Utah Governor’s Medal for her research on sexual assault which included compiling the largest state database of sexual assault cases in the U.S.

“It’s really about listening to the victims, trying to capture their voices and then acting upon it,” Valentine said.

When Christensen or any other volunteer is called into a hospital room, their job is to make the experience as comforting as possible for the survivor. They could be listening to music, chatting or sitting in silence — whatever the survivor prefers. They also hand out pamphlets with subtitles like “Understanding Your Experience” or “The Truth About Sexual Assault” to guide the survivor in coping with their new reality. 

Christensen remembers the first call she ever went on. During the time spent with the victim at the hospital, she felt calm and collected as she chatted with the patient and tried to distract her. On her drive home with her partner, she recalls that she could not stop thinking about it. 

“It just made me so sad that this person was being assaulted for hours. And it just broke my heart and I couldn’t stop crying,” Christensen said. “That was the first time I realized this happens to people and it’s terrible.”  

The center’s director, Lori Jenkins, started working closely with the organization seven years ago as she “felt a deep calling to contribute to the cause.” She was also motivated by her aunt’s involvement in the organization and her awareness of sexual violence issues as her daughters began college. 

“While I haven’t personally experienced the traumas our clients face,” Jenkins said, “I hold immense admiration for those who have endured such hardships and commend their resilience in seeking healing and therapy.”

The center helps facilitate this search. They offer survivors a multitude of resources, including a 24/7 helpline, crisis counseling, advocacy at hospitals and educational groups with meetings open to everyone. They also host therapy groups and help connect clients with therapists with state funds, all free of cost for the survivors. 

A volunteer teaches a class on boundaries for the center’s course on sexual violence. The Refuge Utah offers these classes both in English and Spanish every week, in-person or over Zoom. (Megan Sibley)

People who want to get involved can do so by volunteering in a few different roles, including a shelter volunteer or rape crisis volunteer, or by donating money or supplies. More information can be found on the center’s website.

24/7 Sexual Assault Service Helpline: 801-356-2511

24/7 Domestic Violence Helpline: 801-337-5500

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