A day after Christine Blasey Ford recounted before a Senate committee with “100 percent” certainty that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both teenagers, calls flooded the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s hotline.
By 11 a.m. that day, Sept. 28, the center received as many calls as they typically do in a whole day — a 400 percent increase over the normal volume of calls to the hotline.
Gina Scaramella, BARCC’s executive director, told Boston.com it was the busiest day for the center’s hotline ever.
“It was relatively split between people calling for the first time and people calling because they were upset,” she said. “With the people calling for the first time, we saw a lot of folks in their 50s, 60s, 70-year-olds who hadn’t talked with anyone before. I think they saw themselves in Dr. Ford’s person, and in all the harkenings of Anita Hill as well — as people who didn’t talk about it until they were kind of forced to talk about it because there was something so egregious about to happen.”
Overall, Scaramella said BARCC has seen a surge in requests for services “from all corners” — ranging from direct to educational — since last October with the spread of the #MeToo movement following the bombshell articles detailing allegations of sexual assault and harassment against film mogul Harvey Weinstein in The New York Times and the New Yorker.
Comparing May to July 2017 to the same time period this year, the total number of people receiving services from BARCC went up 15 percent, hotline calls 39 percent, and counseling sessions 30 percent, according to the organization. In addition to the increased requests for services, there has also been a rise in the number of people reaching out to volunteer with the organization. Scaramella said since November 2016, about 600 people have inquired about volunteering.
“October, November, and December, it was all about the hotline, calls, calls, calls, calls,” Scaramella said of last fall. “From there, we got people requesting services like case management, counseling services, or legal services. So it was around the end of December, January when [we] started to get 110 percent increase in service requests. Because it moved from hotlines into the services.”
The weekend following the Kavanaugh hearings, the translation from hotline calls to service requests happened much faster, she said.
“We had 150 percent increase in service requests starting that day,” she said.
Scaramella said the quick turnover was an interesting change to observe, suggesting a factor could have been that people might have already called BARCC earlier this year but felt compelled to reach out again and ask for additional support and services.
It wasn’t the only instance over the last year when the center, dedicated to ending sexual violence, has seen a spike in the requests for services and support from survivors concurrent to a high profile case of sexual assault, abuse, or misconduct. BARCC saw surges following the 2018 Women’s March, Bill Cosby being found guilty of sexual assault, and the report release on clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania.
“There definitely has been a shift,” Scaramella said of how cultural attitudes toward sexual violence appear to have changed in the last year. “I think the way it feels from this end of the equation is that there doesn’t seem to be as many barriers for people to think that we could help them with what they’re dealing with. I think that in the past, the fact that we were the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center might have made people think, ‘Oh, well that’s not what we’re talking about. That’s not for me. We’re talking about harassment, or we’re talking about something that doesn’t rise to that level.’ And I feel like one of the changes is that people are more willing to see the variety of sexual violence that exists and that our area of focus and expertise really is what can help.”
There’s greater acceptance, she said, and the public demonstrations and protests supporting survivors of sexual violence has been critical.
But, as Scaramella said in a statement after Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, there is still a lot that needs to change.
“We need the public to better understand that the systems meant to offer justice rarely do for survivors,” she said in her statement. “One in three women, one in six men, and almost one in two people who are transgender experience sexual violence; the number who will see justice as it is currently defined in our criminal legal system is only a tiny fraction—even when they report. So, the current criminal legal system is not the magic solution, and we need to get serious in building pathways for justice as survivors define it. We are nowhere near where we need to be, but the road forward is becoming clearer. We are making progress, and nothing and no one can roll it back.”