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Tales from Utah Valley: Be part of the healing for sexual assault survivors

By Laura Giles - | Sep 4, 2021

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

The common area is pictured in the shelter building at The Refuge Utah in Provo on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.

Reading the news lately makes us realize that people all over the world can use our help. With the tragedy in Afghanistan, Hurricane Ida, increasing numbers of COVID patients, those struggling to put food on the table and people right here in our own neighborhoods who are suffering in one way or another, there is one definite truth: There are many opportunities to provide service to others.

One very important way to help those right in our own backyards is to volunteer for The Refuge Utah’s sexual assault services team. The Refuge Utah, formerly known as the Center for Women and Children in Crisis, has provided a safe environment for survivors of sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and stalking for over 30 years. The center, located in Orem, provides a therapeutic environment and helps to foster healing for victims.

Imagine being at the hospital after being sexually assaulted, experiencing shock, fear, pain and a wide range of other emotions. Then, a volunteer with the sexual assault services team comes to provide a listening ear, support, comfort, information about the legal process and services to help in healing. The person brings you a change of clothing, a warm blanket, some snacks and stays with you as long as you want. This is one of the jobs of the sexual assault services volunteer.

Another important duty of the team is to respond to calls on the crisis hotline, where victims will call with questions and wondering what to do in order to get help while going through this most difficult time.

According to the Utah Department of Health, studies in Utah suggest that one in six women and one in 25 men experience rape or attempted rape during their lifetime. One in three women will experience some sort of sexual assault during her life. Rape is the only violent crime in Utah that is higher than the national average.

There are many long-lasting effects associated with sexual assaults. These include chronic pain disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, depression, sleep disturbances and post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, women who have been victims of sexual assault are more likely to attempt or die from suicide than other women.

Immediate reactions to sexual assault can include shock, disbelief, denial, fear, confusion, anxiety and withdrawal. Having an advocate to be a listening ear, provide reassurances and just be a comfort can help ease the burdens and these reactions during this terrible time.

The dozens of current volunteers who are there to help victims in Utah County are undoubtedly lifesavers. The Refuge Utah provides training for the volunteers. That training will begin soon so it’s the perfect time for prospective volunteers to apply. For more information about this and other service opportunities, check out therefugeutah.org. Information can also be found on The Refuge Utah Facebook page. The sexual assault hotline is available 24 hours a day at 801-356-2511.

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