URBANA – It was in the early 1970s that a group of women in Champaign-Urbana got together to start a resource to help rape survivors.
Half a century later, an offshoot of the original Champaign County Women Against Rape — the nonprofit Rape Advocacy Counseling and Education Services — is celebrating its anniversary Wednesday with a fundraiser and celebration of its history at Riggs Beer Co., 1901 S. High Cross Street, u .
“It’s really a chance for us to look back on 50 years,” said RACES Managing Director Jaya Kolisetty.
RACES – which serves Champaign, Douglas, Piatt and Ford counties – provides free and confidential crisis counseling services, advocacy, prevention education and a 24-hour hotline for survivors of sexual violence.
Its staff accompany survivors to court hearings and go to hospital emergency rooms 24 hours a day to support those affected by sexual trauma.
RACES staff also provide prevention education to students in classrooms and run programs for parents and teachers.
RACES’ four consultants who offer therapies have a waiting list, although Kolisetty said the agency is in the process of looking for a fifth consultant to reduce the wait.
“We’re seeing more and more people asking for help and we want to make sure the services are there,” she said.
It’s important that women get this help when they’re willing to talk about the trauma that’s struck them, because Kolisetty says it can be difficult to reach out and ask.
“There are so many hurdles for survivors to come forward,” she said.
There’s also no window on when someone affected by sexual trauma will be ready for therapy, she said. For some, it may be years, even decades after that — and Kolisetty wants everyone to know that the 24-hour hotline and other help is available for these survivors no matter how long it’s been.
Over the past decade, RACES has itself become a survivor of the double whammy of budget woes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Its services, which have largely returned to normal, have never been halted, although for a time they were delivered in various forms for safety reasons, Kolisetty said.
This happened earlier in the pandemic when there was more domestic violence – which also impacted the need for RACES’ help, given that 80 percent of sexual violence incidents involve adults and 90 percent of incidents involving that affect children occur in people they know attackers, she said.
It’s difficult to put a number on how many of these incidents occur because so many of them go unreported, Kolisetty said. According to a report released in September by the University of Illinois, 17 rapes and 14 “meat” incidents were reported to UI police in 2021.
Nationwide, one in five women experience sexual violence during college, Kolisetty said. Not only do many of the survivors never talk to the police about it, she said, they don’t talk to anyone about it.
“We want them to know we’re here,” she said.
RACES’ budgetary situation has largely stabilized after a state budget impasse forced the agency to temporarily lay off all of its staff except for Kolisetty and all services other than its hotline in 2016. Kolisetty said RACES – which currently has a budget of just under $1 million – has been working to diversify its funding sources and needs donor help.
“Government funding has been stagnant for quite some time, so we’re looking at outside opportunities to expand our services,” she said.
Her goal: If anything ever happens again that affects funding, Kolisetty said, “that RACES will never have to cut services again.”
She is also looking to expand services to ensure what RACES offers can continue to be offered, she said. RACES plans to offer two new support groups, one for parents of children affected by sexual violence and one for survivors of sexual violence in the lesbian gay bisexual transgender queer community. Anyone wishing to participate in these groups is asked to call the RACES office, Kolisetty said.
Tickets for the Riggs event are sold out, she said, but people can still contribute by participating in a silent auction online at bit.ly/racesauction or by donating at bit.ly/RACESdonate.