The Development Of Rape Crisis Centers

Today, there are more than 1,200 RCCs in operation throughout the United States.4 It took time to get here, however. The first RCCs emerged through grassroots organizing and volunteering in the 1970s with the intention of providing direct service and creating social change.1,5 Many of the first centers, brought about by the emotion and passion of feminist activists, were run out of women's homes with donated materials.6,7,8,5,10 These early RCCs aimed for new models of practice that placed women at the center of all efforts and were staffed by community volunteers who did not have traditional licensing in counseling or professional service backgrounds.1,6,11,12 They believed in and practiced shared power and decision making as opposed to implementing a top-down organizational model, where an executive director or executive board makes most of the decisions that affect those who work under them.13 Organizations were not dependent upon or affiliated with parent organizations, but instead were freestanding.6 Women joined these organizations because they were committed to the movement, that is, to providing direct service and making change in their communities and society at large. This model seemed to work, and the number of RCCs increased throughout the United States.6

As time went on, many of the original leaders left the movement after years of struggling to meet their goals and an overcommitment to their cause.1,12 New staff who placed less emphasis on politics came on board, resulting in varied visions for the structure and function of RCCs.1,9,12,13 Additionally, providing comprehensive services to the many women who came forward reporting rape on such a limited budget was becoming increasingly difficult.11 With limited financial resources, many RCCs turned to government funding and began to apply for and receive funds from Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) and United Way.1,6,9,10,11,12 These changes to funding impacted RCCs in a number of ways. First, government funding often required a board of directors, executive directors, and program coordinators to oversee the use of their funds.11 This caused a shift from the original shared decision making and shared power to a top-down approach.6 Additionally, government funding sources wanted professionally certified personnel to act as direct service providers as opposed to women who originally joined such centers to empower others and make change.6,7 Finally, government funds were not infinite. RCCs had to compete for limited funds, which brought about the need for affiliation.14 RCCs became affiliated with or were absorbed into existing agencies.1,8,10,12 The changes in personnel, finances, and organizational structure transformed RCCs from organizations run by local community members who shared decision-making power and who were working for bigger, more groundbreaking change to social service agencies.

These changes, however, were not uniform across all RCCs and happened in varying degrees over several years.6 For example, of ninety RCCs receiving government funds in 1978, only 43% had boards of directors.9 Some organizations opted for overseeing committees instead, attempting to maintain their feminist collective ideology.6 Throughout the 1980s, more RCCs emerged, and the variation among them grew.12 Gornick et al.12 surveyed a sample of fifty nationally representative RCCs and developed four typologies: (a) centers resembling the original feminist collectives of the early 1970s, (b) centers resembling more mainstream social service programs, (c) centers embedded in other social service or mental health agencies, and (d) programs based in hospitals or emergency departments. These structural differences accounted for differences in practice. Independent centers were more politically active than affiliated centers. Additionally, collectively run centers were more service oriented than hierarchical centers.1,12 In addition to differences in structure accounting for differences in practice, there are differences between centers formed during the peak of the anti-rape movement, in 1978 or earlier, and centers formed after that time. Campbell et al.11 found that the older centers were more likely to participate in activities that aimed to make "big picture" change, or social change, such as marches where women reclaim their right to walk alone at night or education initiatives that encourage people to challenge the way things are. These centers were also more likely to practice participatory decision making. Older centers also had larger budgets and more staff. While younger centers were less likely to engage in public demonstrations, such as taking to the street for a march or protest, they were more likely to be involved in political lobbying. All of this seems to suggest that RCCs have adapted their strategies, structure, and function to the times so as to ensure survival.6

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