No matter how poorly (or how well) the criminal justice system handles rape cases in the long run, sexual assault victims need immediate aid.

Starting in 1972, feminist activists began to provide emergency assistance to women who had just been raped. The first crisis centers, also known as distress or relief centers, were set up in Berkeley, California, and Washington, D.C. These indepen- dent self-help projects were intended to provide an alternative to the very limited services available from the police, at hospital emergency rooms, and through mental health centers. These centers also became bases to organize support for the nation- wide antirape movement.

Rape crisis centers provide a variety of services. Usually, a 24-hour telephone hotline puts victims in contact with advocates who are standing by to help. The center’s staff members are available to accompany women to emergency rooms where

forensic evidence is collected and first aid is received, and to police stations or prosecutor’s offices where complaints are filed and statements are made. Individuals may receive peer counseling and are invited to participate in support groups. Complainants are referred to other community agencies that provide social services. Some centers conduct in-service training to sensitize doctors, nurses, police officers, and assistant district attorneys about the needs and problems of the survivors they encounter. Most undertake educational campaigns to raise public consciousness about the myths and realities surrounding sex crimes and the victims’ plights. Frequently, centers offer self-defense courses for women and children.

Many staff members at the original crisis centers are former victims who shared a commitment to themes embodied in the protest movements of the 1960s and early 1970s. Feminist activists put forward the analysis that rape was primarily a women’s issue, best understood and more effec- tively dealt with by women than by men in posi- tions of authority. A distrust of remote bureaucracies and control by professionals who claim to know what is best for their clients was derived from the youthful counterculture with its “crash pads” (emergency shelters), drop-in centers (for counseling and advocacy), and free clinics (for drug-related health crises) in “hippie” neighbor- hoods. The New Left’s emphasis on egalitarianism, volunteerism, and collective action led to grassroots, community organizing projects stressing self-help and peer support, and to symbolic confrontations with the power structure: protest demonstrations at police stations and courtrooms.

With the passage of time, however, rifts devel- oped within many rape crisis centers. More prag- matic and less ideological staffers softened the staunch stands taken by these nonprofit, nonhierar- chical, nonprofessional, and nongovernmental organizations. They pressed for a more service- oriented approach that would avoid militancy and radical critiques, improve chances for funding, increase referrals from hospitals and police depart- ments, and permit closer cooperation with prosecu- tors. To the founders of the centers, such changes

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represented a cooptation by the establishment and a retreat from the original mission (see Amir and Amir, 1979; and Largen, 1981).

For the staff members and volunteers at crisis centers and at domestic violence shelters too, the big- gest problems in their emotionally exhausting jobs are vicarious traumatization, secondary traumatic stress, and burnout from constant exposure to the adverse reactions and suffering of their clients (Baird and Jenkins, 2003; and Campbell and Wasco, 2005).

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