Rape crisis center marks 40 years of healing

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When he was sexually abused by a family member at age eight, Dean Coglaiti had nowhere to turn.

Education about child abuse prevention didn’t exist in his school in the 1960s or in many other schools in the United States, and he had no way of knowing if other services existed for him where he lived in California.

But a few volunteers on the other side of the country — in Chapel Hill — saw the need for a local rape crisis hotline and began fielding survivors’ calls in 1974. That effort eventually became the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, which helped Coglaiti, now a Chapel Hill resident, heal more than 40 years later.

Today, 10 paid staff members and dozens of volunteers provide rape crisis services to more than 600 clients per year at the center, which is entering its 40th year.

The center runs a 24-hour crisis hotline, houses support groups and workshops, holds community education sessions and trains adults in child abuse prevention.

Shamecca Bryant, the center’s executive director, said the center’s goal is to maximize support for sexual assault victims in multiple areas of their lives.

“One way the center has grown is in doing more work with professionals in the community — doctors and therapists and other individuals that may come in contact with survivors of sexual violence,” Bryant said.

“We want to make sure that any organization or entity that a survivor might be faced with, they are getting the same level of care, and that it doesn’t re-traumatize them.”

To celebrate the center’s 40th anniversary, volunteers will be traveling around the state between January and March to train people in sexual violence prevention.

Coglaiti, like many other survivors, buried his trauma for a long time. A few years ago, he started therapy and joined a support group at the center.

“When you’re with a therapist, it’s one-on-one. In a group situation, you’re exposing yourself to whoever else is in the room of this secret that you’ve kept for a long time,” he said. “It gave me confidence, it took away the shame of what happened to me. It’s transformative.”

Today, Coglaiti works as a “companion” on the center’s hotline. To work the hotline, volunteers must undergo almost 70 hours of training.

“Being able to live in a county that has a center like that is pretty amazing because it’s not available in a lot of places,” he said.

A sexual assault survivor named Kate, who wishes to be identified by her first name, has been trying to bring her case to trial for two years, but many such cases never make it. Kate said the center is what has kept her going.

“It’s good to be able to go there and say, ‘I’m having a weak moment,’ and have them be there and encourage me,” she said. “They remind me why I’m doing this.”

Bryant said the center will continue to strive to be a vocal presence in the Orange County community as it moves forward with its next 40 years.

“We want to make sure that we take time to acknowledge the 40 years of survivors, volunteers, staff members (and) board members who have committed time and energy to the agency, as well as thank all the donors who have supported our work for so long,” she said.

“Our services are still needed, and we want to let people know we are still here.”

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