More than 10 months ago, Rape Response launched its live chat feature on May 28 for sexual assault survivors and others to reach out through the agency’s website.
Within 30 minutes, someone had already reached out to get help.
The agency’s executive director Jeanne Buffington said 47 people have used the service since the beginning of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1, through this week. The live chat feature, which is monitored in a rotation among the agency’s staff, is just one segment of how Rape Response has adapted to the virtual realm amid the COVID-19 pandemic and continue providing resources.
How to get help
Crisis line: 770-503-7273
Rape Response supports survivors of sexual abuse and assault as well as their families through a six-county area including Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Habersham, Lumpkin and White. It also offers its Let’s Talk educational programs to the schools in their service area starting in middle school all the way through college.
Last fiscal year, Rape Response served 710 survivors and has already served 458 individuals through the first six months of this fiscal year. Buffington said they are on track to serve more than 900 people this fiscal year, and historically roughly half of the sexual assault survivors served are from Hall County.
Rape Response was able to get its Let’s Talk programs copyrighted last fall, meaning their materials cannot be used without permission. The copyright protection is retroactive to 1993 when the original program was created.
“It was important to us to get that done because this school year, we haven’t missed any of our schools,” Buffington said. “They’ve all wanted us there this year. Some we started out virtually. Some have been in person. … We’ve really adapted and done what the school wanted us to do.”
Brittany Pirrello, an advocate for Rape Response, said they’ve taught 5,077 Hall County students in sixth through ninth grade during this school year.
“It’s been kind of cool seeing how everybody has been able to adjust and how we’ve still been able to reach those students, even though it may be virtually or it may look a little differently,” Pirrello said.
The material advances with each year but focuses on the main concepts of consent, coercion, the law, healthy communication and relationships.
With some of the programs moving virtually, Pirrello said some schools have had it structured where the students are in person but the educator is virtual.
“It has made it a little more difficult with the discussion-based stuff, but we get some really great questions still from the students,” she said. “It is a little more difficult to engage, but I feel like the educators and the teachers have been really willing to work on it and really get those students engaged.”
Training for interns and volunteers for Rape Response has also adapted to the virtual realm, with the first hybrid training in December.
Through the 30-hour program, there is typically one day in person while the rest of the time is virtual learning.
Rebeca Ruelas, the volunteer program director, said they try to ensure the topics and presenters are engaging due to the extended time a trainee might spend in front of a computer screen.
“It has been such a blessing because we can get presenters from different parts of the U.S. to present for us. Some of them are able to pre-record,” Ruelas said.
Due to visitation rules at local hospitals, Rape Response has been on and off in terms of accompanying people at the hospital during forensic medical exams
Buffington said hospitals were great in informing people of their services and allowing the organization to follow up.
Like any organization in the digital age, Rape Response has also been revamping its social media strategy by consistently posting on its Instagram and Facebook while having a monthly campaign tied to support for sexual assault survivors.
“We’ve actually had even a few disclosures from social media, where somebody will send us a direct message … even sometimes people who aren’t in our service area,” Pirrello said.
Pirrello recalled instances where people from other states said they saw a friend sharing one of Rape Response’s posts and reached out to the group for resources.
“Especially with reaching the younger generation, all the Gen Z-ers, the first place they go is social media. If they hear about a business or if they hear about a place or somewhere that offers services, the first place they’re going to go to is social media,” Pirrello said.