When Brooke Conrad started volunteering with the Sexual Assault Resource Center, a good friend discussed the years of sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her stepfather as a child, which she had never told anyone about.
Seeing how both the assault and the secrecy impacted her friend drives Conrad to continue volunteering with SARC, who now serves as the board president.
"I can't change the past of what happened to her, but I can help to try and make it better and help other people as well," Conrad said.
SARC is a nonprofit organization that has been providing support and assistance to those affected by sexual violence in the seven counties of Brazos Valley for the past 35 years. It offers crisis intervention, case management and advocacy, free counseling and community education/outreach.
The crisis intervention services include a crisis hotline and medical accompaniments available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Trained volunteer advocates, like Conrad, answer the crisis calls and if requested, accompany survivors at the hospital for a forensic exam, during doctor's office visits if receiving treatment related to sexual assault (such as STI testing) and at court hearings or police stations.
"I want them to know that they're going to be OK," Conrad said. "You're going to make it through. It may be the most difficult time in your entire life, but there are people who are awesome, trained, loving and have either been in their shoes or have helped others who have been in their shoes."
Another important aspect about the crisis intervention is that it doesn't have to be recent, Conrad said.
"Even if it was 20 years ago, and you say, 'That's in the past,' maybe so, but your body remembers that experience, so when you get triggered, it's difficult to work through that alone," Conrad said. "It doesn't have to have happened yesterday. If something triggered you again, call us at 3 in the morning, whenever, and we will talk to you."
Also, anyone can call -- there's no typical sexual assault victim, Conrad said.
"Unfortunately, sexual assault is pervasive -- it can affect anyone from children up to people in nursing homes or people not in nursing homes; there's not a traditional survivor. People assume because we are a college town, we only serve college students, but that is just not true."
From Nov. 1, 2017, to Oct. 31, 2018, volunteers answered 1,132 hotline calls, accompanied 234 clients to the hospital, 120 clients to law enforcement agencies or criminal justice hearings and provided 855 individual and 571 group counseling sessions.
The free and confidential counseling options are for survivors and their families who are 13 years or older (Scotty's House serves children in the Brazos Valley). Options include individual counseling for survivors or secondary survivors (loved ones of sexual assault survivors) and support groups.
The free individual counseling services are provided by professional counselors, who are qualified to help, Conrad said.
"Because services are free, they might equate that with low quality, but it's just like anywhere else, we just happen to be nonprofit," Conrad said.
On the 10-person staff, there is also a client services coordinator who assists with case management and advocacy, which incudes crime victim's compensation assistance, legal rights, housing assistance, food assistance, legal aid services, employment services and community healthcare services.
The education and outreach specialists on staff provide educational services at places such as elementary and secondary schools, 12-step program meetings and healthcare providers where they discuss topics such as sexual violence prevention, symptoms of sexual assault survivors, body safety, healthy relationships and consent.
"The curriculum is tailored to the audience," Conrad said. "For example, for kids, we teach the real names of body parts and which adults to trust."
Funding for the nonprofit comes mostly from government grants such as VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) and VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), which is why SARC needs the support of the community because if any of that support goes away, SARC would be facing major challenges, Conrad said.
There is an annual fundraiser, which shifted to a more formal event, "An Evening Under the Stars," for the first time this past October that features dancing, dinner and auctions.
Support is also needed from volunteers.
"We are always looking for volunteers," Conrad said. "We have advocate training three times a year: spring semester, fall semester, and sometime in the summer. If people are interested in that, call us. We also will take volunteers for the office."
Just simply raising awareness of the nonprofit is needed, Conrad said. That's how they get more volunteers, more people seeking services and more financial support.
"If any of this is sounding familiar to you, if anything you're reading is making an event come back, don't hesitate to reach out," Conrad said. "It doesn't make you weak; it makes you brave. There's people ready to help you, and you'll come out better for it."
For more information
The crisis hotline number is 979-731-1000. For more information, visit www.sarcbv.org.
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