Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine may have served 20% more clients in 2021 than in the prior year, but the organization’s lead staff say the numbers reflect the ability to reach survivors rather than an increase in violence.

Despite the uptick, the 488 clients served last year was significantly lower than the 591 served in 2019, according to data Executive Director Arian Clements shared at the group’s annual meeting last week. Clements attributed the dip to the lingering effects of COVID-19.

“The pandemic has really thrown all of our work for a bit of a loop in terms of who we are seeing and how we are seeing people and the level of services we can provide,” she said at the meeting.

SASSMM Executive Director Arian Clements and her dog Posey during a Sexual Assault Awareness Month outreach campaign. Contributed / Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine

Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine, one of a network of seven similar organizations throughout the state, provides prevention services and education programming in Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Knox and Waldo counties, along with eastern Cumberland County. Staffers support clients in a range of ways, Clements said, from leading support groups to accompanying rape survivors to medical examinations.

Though the decline in clients through the pandemic’s first year may seem like a positive, it likely didn’t indicate a decline in violence, Clements said.

“It’s not that sexual violence wasn’t happening,” she said. “It was just that we couldn’t reach (survivors), and they couldn’t reach us in a way that was safe.”


Most of the organization’s services have been pushed online since the beginning of the pandemic, which may have made it difficult for some to seek help, she said.

Particularly worrying was the breakdown of systems designed to protect children, Clements said, as the shift to remote schooling meant teachers and other mandatory reporters were less likely to pick up on and report signs of abuse.

Client Services Coordinator Elise Martin with Gov. Janet Mills at the State House. Contributed / Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine

Yet as schools have shifted back toward more normal operations, SASSMM has seen the uptick in reports that it expected, she added.

In particular, communities have begun making using the organization’s three Children’s Advocacy Centers in Wiscasset, Rockland and Belfast more frequently. The centers’ trained staffers aid law enforcement by interviewing potential victims of abuse in a safe, neutral location, according to Children’s Advocacy Center Program Coordinator Aimee Dick,.

“Training for myself and the family advocate has a lot to do with child development and being able to answer or rephrase questions in any developmentally appropriate way,” said Dick, who added that local health and law enforcement partners are turning to the centers more often each year. “It is very specialized.”

While the pandemic kept SASSMM’s education specialists out of classrooms, the team has used the past two years to update its programming, according to Program Coordinator Julia Papell.


SASSMM staffers wear shirts displaying the number for Maine’s 24-hour sexual assault helpline. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, dial 1-800-871-7741 to reach the helpline. Contributed / Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine

“We’re trying to introduce a culture of consent in general,” she said, referencing a child’s right to opt-out of games or hugs they don’t want. “Those messages are appropriate for them, but they also are going to be transferable as they get older and we are able to start talking to them about things like sexual consent.”

The organization held 120 education events for over 1,300 participants in 2021, according to data shared by Clements, the executive director.

As the group looks toward 2022, particularly sexual assault awareness month in April, Clements hopes SASSMM will continue to expand its educational reach on a pervasive issue that many people find uncomfortable.

“Sexual assault is something that people don’t like to talk about,” she said. “It’s rampant. It’s everywhere. It’s all the time. We’re trying to educate more people to see it so that we can give people help.”

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