Colorado Gives Day Spotlight: Moving to End Sexual Assault
By Ashley Wallis, Community Outreach Worker, Mental Health Partners
After stay-at-home orders were put into place in March, victim advocates noticed a terrifying trend.
With one in four women and one in ten men experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “safer at home” simply didn’t ring true. Calls to domestic violence helplines doubled and even tripled at times since the COVID-19 pandemic started shutting down nations all over the world. While 40% of rape crisis centers surveyed by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence said they had seen an increase in demand for sexual assault services since the pandemic started, hospitals were seeing less survivors coming in for forensic exams—a 43% decrease compared to March of 2019. While more instances of IPV and sexual assault were occurring, less assault survivors were risking going to the hospital for support and reporting due to the issues surrounding the pandemic, from fears of contracting COVID-19 and adding to an already stressed medical system to not being able to leave their home to seek safety while housed with their abuser. Even more upsetting, RAINN reported that in March of this year, minors made up half of calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
Lindsey Breslin, the Program Supervisor for Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA) in Lafayette, Colorado, said things were quiet at first on the MESA sexual assault hotline during stay-at-home orders, but that quickly changed. “When things opened up again in May, we experienced our highest number of calls in 2020,” Breslin said. Initially, calls to MESA centered around past traumas stirred up by the incredible uncertainty the pandemic created in our lives. It wasn’t just survivors calling; Breslin said parents were contacting MESA as children began to disclose sexual abuse or sexual assault they’d experienced in the past. “Since the summer, we have been seeing more acute cases of sexual violence and people reaching out for assistance within a week of experiencing sexual violence,” Breslin said. “As we know, sexual violence does not stop during a pandemic.”
MESA is more than a sexual assault hotline. They have bilingual victim advocacy that includes hospital accompaniment and legal support, individual and group therapies through Moving Beyond Trauma (MBT), trauma-informed yoga, and more. With MESA by their side, sexual assault survivors can advocate for themselves and heal. “We would like survivors to know they are not alone,” Breslin said. As restrictions are on-going and COVID-19 cases are rising in the state, MESA is still working full-force to support Coloradans in need. “The MESA hotline is available 24/7 to provide in-the-moment emotional support and help with or remind them of their coping skills,” Breslin said. “We are still providing on-going victim advocacy to help people navigate the criminal justice system and consider their options.”
Something Breslin suggests for sexual assault survivors who are struggling is to be kind and patient with themselves, and she reminds them that each day of this challenging year, we are all doing our best. “Survivors can give themselves permission to advocate for some time to take care of their own needs,” said Breslin, “whether it’s a brief walk, reaching out to a friend, or engaging in any type of small activity that brings them a sense of well-being in that moment.”
A program like MESA is an invaluable resource for members of our Colorado communities who have been sexually assaulted and for those needing education on consent. As a sexual assault survivor, I’ve found myself brought to tears multiple times the past year upon hearing MESA clients express their gratitude for victim advocates who were there to help them at the police station or in the hospital. I didn’t have this support after my assaults, and I cannot imagine how much quicker I could have moved from living in a place of trauma to a life of healing and recovery, how much of my own power and sense of control I could have reclaimed, had this type of advocacy and support been available to me nearly two decades ago.
For Colorado Gives Day on December 8th, keep MESA in mind for all the good work they do, the education and healing they provide for Coloradans, and the lives they save, both literally and metaphorically, simply by being present and advocating for survivors in their darkest moments.
Hope is a gift that provides more than words can say, and the hope sexual assault advocates provide survivors with by lending their support can completely alter the trajectory of survivors’ healing journeys.
If you’re struggling with sexual trauma, have been sexually assaulted, or are in need of help due to domestic violence or intimate partner violence, below are some resources we hope you’ll take advantage of. Be well. You are not alone.
MESA (Moving the End Sexual Assault)
Sexual Assault Hotline: 303-443-7300
SPAN (Safehouse Progressive Alliance Network)
24-hour Crisis Hotline: 303-444-2424
Safe Shelter of St. Vrain
24/7 Crisis Line: 303-772-4422