Local sexual assault crisis hotline staff see rise in reports  

Every call Kristi Taylor has taken on the Advocacy Center’s crisis hotline is different. Some call frequently, looking for support and guidance on how to live with past trauma. Others, who may be in immediate danger at the hands of an abuser, are seeking shelter for the night.

“It's always such an honor for people to trust that I might be able to help them and that they’ll trust me with their stories that are probably some of the most private and intimate,” Taylor says.

Taylor is the educational director at the Advocacy Center, the only shelter and resource center for victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Tompkins County, New York.

 The Advocacy Center provides a variety of resources including personal advocates who can provide support to victims of sexual violence though medical and judicial processes.

The Advocacy Center provides a variety of resources including personal advocates who can provide support to victims of sexual violence though medical and judicial processes.

In the past year and a half, the Advocacy Center has seen a gradual uptick in reporting. This echoes a national trend of increasing reports of sexual assault and harassment. Taylor says the Center has seen a marked increase in calls to the Center’s crisis hotline since October of 2017, “Which is exactly when #MeToo started,” Taylor adds.

The Center’s 24-hour hotline is available seven days a week and is a place where people can talk anonymously. Trained volunteers and staff who work on the hotline can help callers through a variety of processes, ranging from talking to law enforcement or a Title IX officer, to addressing medical needs or getting support through the criminal justice system.

Taylor says she think the hotline is one of the most important resources for victims of sexual violence because of its “constant connection.”

“When you're meeting with a counselor or therapist, that role is huge in helping people build tools and skills, but they're not always necessarily available at 2 a.m,” Kristi says.

When a call comes in, “The first thing we do..is ask the person if they’re in a safe place to talk,” Taylor says.

After assessing their physical safety, Taylor says she tries to create a space where the caller is comfortable to talk. She asks about the situation and what prompted the caller to pick up the phone that night.

 The Center’s crisis hotline phones are scattered throughout the office so that trained volunteers can answer at anytime of day

The Center’s crisis hotline phones are scattered throughout the office so that trained volunteers can answer at anytime of day

Taylor first began working on a domestic violence hotline in 2008. “I always knew that this work was important...I know a lot of people in my life who have experienced these forms of violence and the idea of being able to hopefully provide a space for people to talk was really powerful for me,” Taylor says.

Hearing stories that people often feel shame around can be be emotionally tasking. Taylor says, “Of course, we’re hearing really difficult stories and there’s an element of sadness and frustration that can also come in that people are experiencing such hurt in the world.”

In times when specific instances of sexual assault or harassment receive increased attention from the media, calls to the Center’s crisis hotline often go up. Most recently, during the hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault by former high school classmate, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, calls to the hotline shot up. This mirrored a trend across the country, where calls to the National Sexual Assault hotline increased by over 200 percent on the day of the hearing.

Taylor says the Center saw an increase in calls from people of Dr. Ford's generation. “I think largely because people could really connect with what the culture was that they grew up in, and then kind of seeing it reply back out was really difficult.”

Taylor sees a shift in the way people approach sexual violence in younger generations. “College students may not even have a full grasp of the fact that even 10 years ago, this was the norm,” she says.

She adds, “You have this kind of wave that brings up this conversation...of having an expectation of being heard and having some type of accountability for the people engaging in this behavior.”

 

Ithaca College introduces Opioid Overdose Training for Students and Staff

The Southern Tier AIDS program hosted an Opioid Overdose Workshop on October 4 at Ithaca College. Kim Conrad, a Harm Reduction Specialist, and Emily England, Director of Programs - Harm Reduction, at the Southern Tier Aids program, conducted the workshop.

Students and staff were taught how to administer Narcan which contains Naloxone, an antidote which can be used to reverse an opioid overdose, as well as recognize signs and symptoms of a possible overdose. Conrad, who has hosted four other workshops at Ithaca College in the past two years, walked through the procedure step by step.

The opioid overdose kit comes in a small blue pouch that includes syringes and Naloxone. The drug can be administered through a needle or in the form of a nasal spray. The medication binds itself to receptors to reverse the depression of the respiratory and nervous system, letting the user to breathe.

In a 2015 a student survey from the Center for Health Promotion found that 0.2 percent of students at Ithaca College had used opioids that were not prescribed to them in the past month. This is lower than the national average of 0.5 percent.

The college decided to begin training all students, including resident assistants, interested in using Naloxone to prevent overdoses after illegal opioid use rose from 2.8 percent to 3 percent from 2015 to 2017 among college students, according to the National College Health Assessment.

 Kim Conrad, Harm Reduction Specialist at the Southern Tier AIDS program, demonstrates on to administer Naloxone at the Opioid Overdose Workshop

Kim Conrad, Harm Reduction Specialist at the Southern Tier AIDS program, demonstrates on to administer Naloxone at the Opioid Overdose Workshop

Nancy Reynolds, the Program Director at the college’s Center for Health Promotion said Ithaca College has trained 87 people since the initiative began last April.

“This includes a mix of IC students, faculty and staff.” According to Reynolds, there have not been any student, staff or faculty opioid overdoses in the college’s history.

However, opioid abuse is prevalent in New York.  According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 10 percent to 25 percent of people who use heroin overdose annually in the state. Drug overdoses are also climbing faster than any other cause of death in New York. Because of these reasons, the Center for Health Promotion decided to set forth with a plan to make overdose training available on campus.  

Conrad and England said that college students make up one of the largest groups of drug abusers nationwide. Those ages 18 to 24 are at heightened risk of addiction and those enrolled in college are twice as likely to abuse drugs than those who are not enrolled in college.

 Narcan nasal spray, which contains opioid antidote Naloxone, from an opioid overdose prevention kit

Narcan nasal spray, which contains opioid antidote Naloxone, from an opioid overdose prevention kit

“Because there’s a lot of stigma around drug use, I think that folks are often apprehensive to try and figure out one way to respond to that,” Conrad said, referring to why students may be reluctant to be trained in opioid overdose prevention. “Fatal overdoses can be avoided, it’s just a matter of getting trained.”

“I think it’s important to remember that opioids don’t discriminate,” England said. “They happen in many different communities and to multiple types of people....no matter who's overdosing, everyone’s a person.”

Felicity Holmes, a student who took part in the workshop said, “You never know who's doing it on our campus... and being that one person who might be able to save someone’s life would be good.”