As Deana Franks, interim executive director of the Rape Crisis Center, stood in front of an audience of volunteers, donors, mental health professionals, and community supporters, she struggled to hold back tears.

“You have no idea where we started,” Franks said. “And I just want to thank you.”

The Rape Crisis Center on Wednesday celebrated the grand opening of its new location, which provides space for 16 counseling rooms, two play therapy rooms, and a training room with a 60-person capacity – a significant increase in space from the previous location. The nonprofit organization has been working with individuals and families whose lives have been impacted by rape and sexual assault for 42 years.

There were 2,086 documented sexual assaults in Bexar County in 2015, according to the Department of Public Safety‘s annual crime report. RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, reports that about two out of three sexual assaults go unreported.

Franks told the Rivard Report that the organization needed a bigger space and a more convenient location in order to increase access to services.

“We aren’t the best kept secret in town anymore,” said Franks, who has been working with the organization for 18 years.

In 2016, the center served 7,796 individuals impacted by rape and sexual assault. Staff completed 523 presentations throughout the city, educating the public on survivor sensitivity, healthy relationships, gender socialization, and more. Throughout the year, the center worked with 78 agencies and schools providing educational and therapeutic services to the community.

It was in one of those presentations that donor Karen Reaves and her husband Gaylord learned about the services offered and populations served through the Rape Crisis Center and felt compelled to contribute. The new facility includes a therapy room named in their honor.

“I think that society thinks rape is a women’s problem,” Reaves said. “It’s not just a women’s crime. It’s men, it’s children, and the word needs to get out there and everyone needs to get involved.”

Rape Crisis Center Room Sponsor Karen Reaves speaks at the opening of the new location of the Rape Crisis Center.
Rape Crisis Center supporter Karen Reaves speaks at the opening of the nonprofit’s new location. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

RAINN reports that about 3% of American men – or one in 33 – have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime; one out of every 10 rape victims is male. Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault. Native Americans are twice as likely to experience rape or sexual assault compared to all other races.

Stacey Schwab participated in counseling at the Rape Crisis Center for three years following her sexual assault. There were drugs and alcohol involved in the incident that took place when Schwab was 17. She didn’t start participating in therapy until she was 19, and by then, was heavily using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the effects of the trauma.

While drinking one night, she told her father about her sexual assault. Her mother began looking for resources and found the Rape Crisis Center; from there Schwab began her journey toward healing. The services she received through the Rape Crisis Center were “life-changing,” she said.

Prior to receiving services at the center, Schwab had gone to therapists referred through her family’s insurance and employee assistance programs. She recalled the experiences as being invalidating.

“They were victim-blaming, victim-shaming, saying ‘What’s a good girl like you doing drinking?’ and things like that.”

The experience left Schwab feeling angry, which prevented her from engaging in therapeutic services for two years following her assault, and prolonged suffering.

Schwab said she felt safe at the Rape Crisis Center.

Rape Crisis Center Interim Executive Director Deana Franks, surrounded by donors, employees, and volunteers, cuts the ribbon at the opening of the new location of the Rape Crisis Center.
Rape Crisis Center Interim Executive Director Deana Franks, surrounded by donors, employees, and volunteers, cuts the ribbon at the opening of the nonprofit’s new location. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“I knew they weren’t going to shame me,” she said. “I had some suicidal ideation [then], and I always chose to call the hotline because the person at the other end of the line was going to get it. They weren’t going to say, ‘What were you doing hanging out with a boy at midnight?’”

After years of volunteering to help with front office work, data entry, and as an advocate, Schwab is now the volunteer director for the Rape Crisis Center. She told the Rivard Report that she is dedicated to the organization that helped change her life and “needs to make sure that the life-changing services that helped [her] wrench [her] life from chaos are there for everyone.”

The Rape Crisis Center hosts a 24-hour hotline that provides comfort, resources, and other assistance 365 days a year. It also hosts an online hotline through RAINN to provide electronic chat services to those needing support.

As part of efforts to enforce the prison rape elimination act, the center has worked closely with the Bexar County Adult Detention Center so incarcerated survivors of sexual violence can be heard in their time of need.

The Rape Crisis Center runs a 24/7 hospital advocacy program, where trained advocates accompany sexual assault survivors who choose to go to the hospital to have an exam. The advocates respond to an average of two to three new sexual assault cases per day.

Collages made by survivors line the walls of the new location of the Rape Crisis Center.
Collages made by survivors line the walls of the new location of the Rape Crisis Center. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The nonprofit receives federal, state, and local government funding as well as philanthropic dollars from private individuals, foundations, and the business community.

Franks attributes the growth of the center, in part, to local and national efforts toward criminal justice reform regarding sexual assault victims. “The entire nation talks about assault more – its something we are all hearing about,” she said. “It has given survivors the voice to speak out and not be embarrassed about what has happened to them.”

While there has been an audible shift in the conversation away from shaming and toward support and advocacy for victims, there is still a long way to go to ensure that communities evolve culturally away from re-victimizing some of their most vulnerable individuals.

According to data published by RAINN, out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 310 are reported to police. Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison compared to other criminals: Out of  every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. Seven out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.

Those who experienced sexual assault and chose not to report it to police often cite fear of retaliation (most common), believing that the police won’t do anything to help, believing that it was not important enough to report, and not wanting to get the perpetrator in trouble.

Jennifer Tristan is the director of education training at the Rape Crisis Center. She told the Rivard Report that her department is “initiating conversations on topics that many people feel too uncomfortable having on their own.”

Informing people of the realities of sexual violence, how to respond to outcries to support survivors, and how to prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place are stepping stones toward shifting the conversation and examining the root causes of sexual violence.

“The Rape Crisis Center envisions communities free from sexual violence, and the work of the education department is making strides in that direction on a daily basis,” Tristan said.

Through multi-session curriculum on topics such as gender, power and control, effects of the media, boundaries, and communication, the Rape Crisis Center is teaching individuals and communities how to cultivate heathy relationships based on equality and respect for differences.

“I can never repay what was given to me,” Schwab said. “My therapist helped me get clean, find a 12-step program, and now I am the first person in my family to go to college and get a degree. I owe it to the help I got at the Rape Crisis Center – it’s more than just counseling.”

The Rape Crisis Center has been functioning in its new space since March 1. Donors include the Najim Family Foundation, the Greehey Family Foundation, Tesoro, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and more

For Ramiro Cavazos, president and chief executive officer of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, supporting the Rape Crisis Center is getting behind services that improve people’s lives; a cause that the chamber “backs 150 percent.”

“You are at the front lines,” Cavazos said. “One thing we can all do is help [the Rape Crisis Center] have access to more resources to help and support what you need.”

For more information on services provided by the Rape Crisis Center and how to participate, click here.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.