FARMINGTON – For 20 years victims of sexual assault in Franklin County have had a place to turn thanks to Sexual Assault Victim’s Emergency Services, a Farmington-based sexual assault support center.

What started as a grassroots hotline, operating on a starting budget of $12,500, has grown into the area’s primary organization for sexual assault victims, working with a budget of more than $300,000 and serving more than 200 clients each year and educating countless others that sexual violence in Franklin County will not be tolerated.

This April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, will be the 20th year the SAVES emergency toll-free hotline has been on-line. Another of the state’s 10 sexual assault centers, Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Lewiston-Auburn, also will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2003.

For 19 years, Janine Winn has served as the executive director for the Franklin County center, which now employs seven workers and relies on the dedication of more than 20 men and women volunteer advocates.

The agency is funded by the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area, which has increased its allocation for SAVES by $3,000 this year, donations from area municipalities and federal and state grants and allotments.

In March, more than $3,000 was raised for SAVES when office assistant Araminta Star Matthews brought together dozens of community members to put on three performances of the play by Eve Ensler, “The Vagina Monologues.”

A University of Maine at Farmington graduate, Winn decided to join the SAVES team in hopes of making the world a better place for her two children. “I felt that it was important for me to do something to make the world safer on behalf of my children,” she said, sitting in organization’s 186 Main St. office. “This felt like something concrete I could do.”

During her time, Winn has seen the reporting of sexually violent crimes rise. In 1999, six reports were made to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. That number was up to 21 in 2000, and 35 in 2001 and the mid-50s in 2002.

Those numbers, she said, are attributed to a new position, founded in 1999 with the combined help of SAVES and the Abused Women’s Advocacy Project. The sexual assault and domestic violence special investigator at the Sheriff’s Department is David St. Laurent.

One of the organization’s banner programs, called School-Based Intervention and Prevention Program, is led by Kristen Plummer and serves all of the county’s four school districts.

The program reaches hundreds of students and focuses on cultivating healthy relationships as well as offering one-on-one help for upwards of 100 students who have been victims of sexual abuse or assault or are directly affected.

Students in Rangeley created a quilt that opened up a dialogue about dating violence, students at Mt. Abram High School learned self-defense for women and students at Mount Blue learned sexual assault laws in a law enforcement class.

In addition to the 24-hour-a-day hotline, SAVES also offers support groups, using the Trauma Recovery and Empowerment model, which last year served 49 women and six men and SAVES community education coordinator Mike Burd recently became the first non-law enforcement member of the Maine Computer Crimes Task Force.

All the steps add up, Winn says proudly, and have truly made the difference for many victims in the country. “The work we do is very, very meaningful. I feel like we really make a difference. I think this agency helps to make Franklin County a good, safe, place to live.”

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