LEWISTON — Rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse or sexual violence.

Regardless of the terminology, the meaning is the same: “It’s the violation of one person’s body by another,” says Marty McIntyre.

McIntyre is the executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Lewiston and has been the director since the center opened 25 years ago. It started as a hot line with McIntyre as the only employee and has blossomed into a site that works in conjunction with police and the local courts, has representatives in schools and provides services for all ages. 

A local volunteer for many years, McIntyre said she used that experience to apply for the position before the center opened in 1984.

“People always tell me this job must be depressing,” she said. “But the truth of the matter is, we get to work with the most resilient, determined, courageous, strong people who have suffered such an extreme, horrifying experience but are determined to not let it control their lives and are determined to get help and support. That’s not depressing at all.” 

The center, which sits at the corner of Webster Street and East Avenue, is relaxed and non-intimidating. The victims are as young as infants and as old as 80, and the staff allows them to express any fear and anger they may have.

“They have every right to be upset and unhappy,” McIntyre said. “We’re comfortable letting people cry if they need to cry and be angry if they need to be angry. And then we try to help people move forward from their immediate feelings.”

Most of the center’s work involves helping women, from teenagers to those in their late 30s. Those percentages echo national statistics: Females between the ages of 15 and 24 are dating and forming relationships, and have the highest chance of being assaulted.

McIntyre said other victims include women who have been married for many years, the elderly who are often dependent on their caretakers and men who are assaulted by other men — groups that can be reluctant to come forward.

To males who feel ashamed of being sexually abused, McIntyre said, “I think the important thing to understand is that sexual assault is not about sexual desire, it’s about power and control. It’s sex that you use as a violent weapon in an assault. And it doesn’t change who they are, it doesn’t change what their sexual orientation is, whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual. It’s about power and control.”

When SACC opened, McIntyre received about the same percentage of calls from recent victims as from victims who were assaulted in the past. Today, she estimates 75 percent of her calls and visits are from victims of past assaults.

McIntyre believes that for many former victims, an event in their adult lives has triggered a reaction that caused them to want to confront the issue.

Help in the form of listening

She refers some of her clients to therapists such as Ellen Crosby, a licensed clinical social worker, who works with Rape Education and Crisis Hotline (REACH), Oxford County’s equivalent of SACC.

Crosby and McIntyre believe the first step in helping a victim of sexual assault is to listen.

Crosby also works with offenders, family members of sexual assault victims and adults who were victims as children. She believes programs such as SACC and REACH are vital to ensure that victims get the support they need, whether it’s being there during court proceedings or to accompany victims to hospitals.

Crosby noted that it may be more difficult to treat a victim who has not reported the abuse and has kept it a secret than it is to treat a victim who has gone through the recovery process with support.

“When people are getting help immediately with SACC and other services, they’re not likely to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome,” she said.

There are many emotional and developmental stages a person can go through if they’re keeping abuse a secret, Crosby said, one of which is self-blame.

She urges family and friends to be supportive. “They need people to not make judgments about how long it should take them to recover. It’s so much about acceptance. Victims are already so inclined to judge themselves.”

Preventing abuse

For its 25th anniversary, SACC leaders hope to continue to expand the mission by working with OUTRIGHT — a local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender group — reaching out to the Somali community, going to local nursing homes and having an advocate at local schools two to four hours a week.

McIntyre said it is crucial to teach children how to respect others from a young age in order to prevent sexual assault.

“I think it’s important to start with young people, really young, and teach them about things like respecting other people’s bodies and respecting personal space,” she said. As the kids grow, SACC advocates talk to students about forming healthy relationships and the consequences of sexual assault.

With preventive methods, McIntyre hopes to dispel the myths she often hears, including “no means yes or no means just try a little harder.”

Identification is another important factor, and Crosby said communities are doing a better job of quickly finding and helping children who are abused in order to prevent them from needing help years later.

Healing offenders is another goal in prevention, Crosby said. She encourages empathy for offenders. Many were victims of some kind of abuse themselves as children. She believes the near impossibility of offenders finding jobs, living in certain neighborhoods and traveling may hinder the progress.

“We should help them gain self-respect, to heal them and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Healing offenders may prevent more victims. “The best thing to do for victims is to not have victims.”

McIntyre said she hopes there won’t be a need for the center in another 15 years, although the
number of people seeking help from sexual abuse is continuing to
increase.

“I always say that we’re one of the occupations that is working
very hard to put ourselves out of business,” she said.

Sexual assault numbers

Locally:

• In 1984, the Sexual Assault Crisis Center provided services
to 53 people; 31 assaults were reported

• In 2008, 573 people received assistance from the center; 63
assaults were reported

• In 1984, 30 percent of new assault victims who came to the center for help chose to file a police report

• In 2008, 80 percent filed police reports

Maine:

• 340 rapes were reported in 2006.

• Nearly 1 in 5 adult Maine residents has been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

• 38.3 percent of adult Maine sexual assault survivors report they have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

• 48.6 percent of adult Maine sexual assault survivors report they have been diagnosed as depressed.

• 28.7 percent of female sexual assault survivors in Maine report they drank heavily in the past month.

Nationally:

• One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

• 17.7 million women in the U.S. have been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

• Of females who are raped, 54 percent experience their first rape before age 18.

• The U.S. has the highest rate of reported rape of any country that
publishes such statistics; 13 times higher than Great Britain and 20
times higher than Japan.

• In a survey of college women, 13.3 percent indicated they have been forced to have sex in a dating situation.

• Only 2 percent of all sexual assault accusations reported to law enforcement
turn out to be false.

• 84 percent of women who are raped know their offenders.

Statistics courtesy of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the SACC. For more information, visit, MECASA.org

 
Advice from Ellen Crosby, licensed clinical social worker

• Parents should protect their boys as well as their girls. Though most victims who come forward are females, when offenders are asked who they abuse, they report about the same number of male victims as female victims.

• Many people may be surprised when they see a sexual offender who is good with children. However, most are. That’s how they gain a child’s trust. Parents must trust their instincts, because people who are trying to hurt children often first gain the trust of an adult who is close to the child.

• It is important to provide support and services for family members and friends, especially spouses, of sexual assault victims. They are dealing with the consequences, as well.

To reach SACC or REACH 24-hour hot lines, call 1-800-871-7741.


Patty’s story

Patty was physically and sexually abused by her father and her uncles. She has asked that her real name not be used, but she feels it’s important to share her story to assure victims that the abuse is not their fault.

Patty says her abuse began when she was 3 years old at the hands of her physically intimidating father. Over time, Patty became increasingly angry with her mother, who acted as her father’s enabler. “I was very angry and mean to her. She didn’t protect me,” Patty said.

When Patty reached her teen years, the abuse became worse. Her father began selling her for sex at age 11 and she was later raped by two uncles. The matter was kept private inside their household. “We didn’t have a lot of outside influence,” she said.

“It was very normal in my life,” Patty said of the regularity of her father’s abuse. He took her to get an abortion when she was 12, when the procedure was still illegal.

The abuse continued until she was 25. The subject was taboo and there were no avenues to seek help, Patty said. She never reported the abuse to authorities and her parents have since died. Patty believes it is still a difficult subject for victims to broach, but believes there are more resources for people today.

Agencies such as the Sexual Assault Crisis Center “need our help, they need our support and they need volunteers,” she said. Furthermore, she wants victims to know about SACC and its services in the hope that they can speak out and not keep their abuse a secret.

“For most of my life I have lived with depression, trust (problems), low self-esteem and intimacy issues. I worked hard and kept a distance from my emotions and hoped no one would ever find out,” she said. After her father’s abuse, Patty said she became involved in a string of unhealthy and abusive relationships.

It wasn’t until she started counseling children who had been abused that she began dealing with the memories of her own assault. She began speaking out and sharing her story.

In 2006, her councilor recommended SACC to Patty. Along with counseling, writing poetry and speaking openly about her past, Patty said the services at SACC, including a support group and one-on-one sessions with therapist Sarah Wood, have helped her cope.

Sexual Assault Crisis Center Director Marty McIntyre, at her office in Lewiston, has been part of the organization since its beginning, 25 years ago.

Sexual Assault Crisis Center Director Marty McIntyre, pauses for a moment on the stairs at the office in Lewiston. She has been part of the organization since its beginning, 25 years ago.

Sexual Assault Crisis Center Director Marty McIntyre.


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