LEWISTON — When Marty McIntyre joined the new Sexual Assault Crisis Center in 1984, it was her job to oversee volunteers and to manage the group’s one and only service — a sexual assault helpline.
She worked 24 hours a week. Her office was a room in an old apartment owned by Central Maine Medical Center. With an annual budget of less than $12,000, she had a chair, an office phone, and not much else.
“I like to tell people I did not have a stapler,” she said. “And it’s true, I did not.”
Three decades later, McIntyre is retiring as executive director after growing the Sexual Assault Crisis Center into Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services, one of the largest sexual assault nonprofits in the state.
With a $1.2 million annual budget, it maintains four offices and a children’s advocacy center, outreach and education programs, support groups, individual support, a sexual assault response team and a helpline that takes calls and texts, and is collaborating on a safe house for victims of sex trafficking. Twenty-one employees serve three counties.
“Everybody has a stapler,” McIntyre said with a laugh.
After 34 years, McIntyre’s last day will be Dec. 21.
“It’s bittersweet, but I think it’s the right time for me and the right time for the agency,” said McIntyre, who turns 65 at the end of this month. “I’m feeling pretty good about it. Until Dec. 21, when I’m going to cry.”
Advocates say they will shed some tears, too. They credit McIntyre with not only SAPARS’ success, but successes statewide.
Some refer to her as the “godmother” of sexual assault work in Maine.
“There is no question that Marty McIntyre has been among a handful of the most important leaders in Maine in ending sexual violence and ensuring that victim survivors have the services they need,” said Elizabeth Ward Saxl, head of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
In 1984, McIntyre had a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a background in helping people integrate into the community from institutions, but no experience with sexual assault work. She was a stay-at-home mom volunteering for local organizations when she was hired as a part-time volunteer coordinator for the fledgling Sexual Assault Crisis Center. She was the only employee.
Until then, Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston had provided all of the rape crisis services for the area. Created by passionate community members and funded with a federal grant, the new center was one of only a few in Maine and one of the only groups to refer to “sexual assault” in its name rather than “rape.”
“It was very specifically to try to broaden out the kinds of things we could help with,” McIntyre said.
The center started only with a helpline, but it didn’t stay limited for long. By the mid-1990s it had created a sexual assault response team to help people in the aftermath of an assault and was making advocates available to students in local schools.
“These aren’t all kids who have been assaulted or abused,” McIntyre said. “It might be a person who is in a relationship and they’re getting uneasy about the direction of the relationship or they’re feeling pressure that they’re not sure what to do with. And it might be a friend who knows someone and wants to know, ‘How do I help them?'”
Over the years, under McIntyre’s leadership, the center sought out people who could have been easily marginalized — offering a support group for LGBTQ youth, providing outreach to seniors, immigrants, people with developmental disabilities, veterans.
In 2005, it turned its attention to children when it agreed to help sponsor the Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center, a first-in-the-state center where an abused child could tell his or her story once, to a trained professional in a comfortable setting, rather than being forced to share the experience over and over with police, caseworkers, prosecutors and other strangers.
“I don’t mean to be dramatic here, but it was groundbreaking in Maine. There was a lot of resistance,” McIntyre said. “It was a real change in the way people were doing their work.”
Today, there are seven other centers across the state. The local center is now the Children’s Advocacy Center of Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, serving more than 250 children a year in the three counties.
In 2011, the Sexual Assault Crisis Center merged with sexual assault agencies in Oxford and Franklin counties to become Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services. It serves all three counties.
“(McIntyre) has taken that agency to extreme heights and respect throughout Maine,” said Jane Morrison, the former director of the Lewiston-based domestic violence group Safe Voices.
Advocates say the center couldn’t have come so far without McIntyre — and neither could Maine. They credit McIntyre for helping to remove the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, helping to eliminate the legal allowance for marital rape and helping to make the rape of a companion as much a crime as the rape of a stranger.
“It’s impossible to quantify the impact she’s had,” Saxl said. “And perhaps more mind-boggling is the number of victim survivors of sexual assault she’s supported over the decades with her work.”
McIntyre said retirement was “always on the horizon for me,” but it was the death of her husband a couple of years ago that prompted her to make the decision.
“That changed my perspective on how I want the rest of my life to go,” she said. “This feels like the right time for me and the right time for the agency.”
SAPARS has started its search for her replacement.
“When I tell people what I do, what they say is, ‘That must be so depressing,'” McIntyre said. “What I say to them is, ‘No, what is depressing is that this happens.’ But the people we work with, imagine what they’ve been through and yet they get up every day and they go about their lives and they do the work to heal from this and to not let it become the defining thing in their life. And that’s incredible. To be able to be a part of that is just awesome.”
McIntyre plans to spend a couple of weeks in Hawaii. After that, she’ll come back and figure out what she wants to do.
“I suspect I’ll look for some volunteer opportunity,” she said. “I got laughing because I was talking to a friend about an idea I had (involving women and money) and she said, ‘Well, maybe we should do it.’ And I said, ‘Oh, my god, I’m going to start another organization!’ Maybe.”
She added: “You haven’t heard the last of me yet.”
Marty McIntyre, executive director of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services, will retire in December after a 34-year career. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)