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Stories from the Myrtle Beach Sun News
story & photos by Caroline Wright

In times of trouble, rape crisis center is a safety zone
December 23, 1999

Red is the color of Christmas, but there is no red here.

The walls are a soft lilac blue, the plush carpet deep green. Dropped ceilings mute the acoustics of the place. The quiet voices of women come from offices on either side of the corridor. This is a calm, safe environment.

It has to be, for it is the home of the Grand Strand Community Against Rape Crisis Center (GSCAR). Since its establishment in 1990, GSCAR has helped over 3,000 victims of this most intimate of violent crimes. With offices in Georgetown and Horry counties, the Center provides crisis assistance, intervention, hospital accompaniment, legal advocacy, referrals, and follow-up services to the community 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Services are free and completely confidential.

Two nights each month, volunteer advocate Bobbsy Binninger goes "on call" for GSCAR. If a rape survivor calls the crisis line because she can't sleep, Binninger listens. If an indirect victim spouse, family, or friend of a rape survivor wants to know how to help, Binninger provides guidance. Sometimes the call comes from a nurse or policeman in the middle of the night, to tell Binninger that a woman has been raped has arrived at the hospital. "Women are so relieved that there's another woman there who gives a damn," says Binninger.

GSCAR has 26 volunteer advocates on its roster. Typically, volunteers undergo 20 hours of training, which includes videotapes, role playing, and police officers and medical professionals as guest speakers. Many volunteers help out with the crisis line at least two nights per month.

Like the other volunteer and staff advocates, Binninger has spent a lot of time in hospitals. Advocates provide emotional support and information to survivors and their families during the immediate aftermath of the assault. They provide clothing for the victims, whose own garments are usually taken by the police as evidence. They also stay with the victims during the medical examinations, which are often very difficult.

"On a personal level, it brings back memories of what happened to me," comments Binninger, the survivor of a rape that occurred when she was just 14. "But I wanted to give something back to my community, and this was something I knew I could relate to. I didn't realize at the time how much healing I still had to do! Volunteering has helped."

Binninger estimates she has provided assistance to at least 75 rape victims in her eight years as a volunteer. Though she is capable of assisting rape victims of all ages, Binninger finds that she has the deepest bonds with younger victims, perhaps because of her own childhood ordeal.

And that bond has served her well this year. Mary Stogner, volunteer coordinator, reports a terrible trend. "Since the spring, we have seen a big increase in juvenile girls between 11 and 17 as victims of sexual assault. The offenders are over the age of 19."

Hoping to halt or reverse this trend, GSCAR has hired an educational advocate. Jo Ann Borovicka has helped develop a program on sexual harassment and assault, which can be presented to churches, public schools, and community groups. "We have a lot of opinions and assumptions that are not based in fact, and we are working on changing them," Borovicka comments.

In a UCLA survey of teenagers, for example, 43% of teenage boys indicate that they believe it is all right to force sex on a female if he has dated her for a long time. Alarmingly, 32% of teenage girls surveyed agreed, reports Borovicka.

Nationally, it is estimated that one out of three women has experienced sexual assault at some time in her life. 65% of women report that their first sexual experience was an assault. "There are still incidences of people who will call us, but not law enforcement," Stogner says. "We try to convince them to go to the hospital, because there may be a pregnancy or an STD. And we let them know that this is not their fault."

In 1998, 267 new victims came to the Center for help. At least half of them were raped by people they knew a casual acquaintance, a family member, a co-worker, a schoolmate, a neighbor, or a spouse. "About 85% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows," says Borovicka. Profound guilt and depression are common emotions of rape victims, who often believe that they could have prevented their assaults.

GSCAR has proven to be an oasis for Kelly (not her real name), a survivor who found the Center in the telephone book several years ago, just days after being raped by a trusted acquaintance.

"I went through a bad depression. I don't like for anything in my life to get ahead of me. But I knew that if I didn't do anything, he (the rapist) would win again. I talked to one of the volunteers, told her I was raped, and that I didn't know what to do."

The volunteer told Kelly about the rape survivors' group that meets at the Center on a weekly basis. "I came to the next meeting, thinking I would be nervous, and not know what to say. But I probably talked through the whole thing!"

In a process that varies with each survivor, Kelly continues to heal. "I'm not finished yet. But this place really helps. I feel like these women are my sisters."

GSCAR needs sweatpants, panties, and socks in sizes S, M, L for victims. They also would like a refrigerator and assistance from a carpet-layer and a light carpenter. To make a donation, please call executive director Yvonne Makl at 448-3180. Rape victims and survivors who would like more information on GSCAR's support group or services may call the crisis line at 448-7273.

Caroline Wright is a freelance writer. She can be reached via e-mail at c@wrightforyou.com or by phone at 347-5634.