“There is peace because there is no judgment, and we accept you wherever you are on life’s path”
The Sexual Assault Center, or SAC, is located here in Nashville only a few miles from Vanderbilt. The center works with both child and adult sexual assault survivors by providing them with a safe environment, counseling and a promise to help. Along with individual therapy, the SAC also provides group therapy sessions to support the families of the victims. Through educational programs such as Safe@Last, BeSafe@Last, a variety of presentations and “Stewards of Children,” the SAC, with it’s dedicated therapists and volunteers, works to connect with and protect the community. To get an inside look at the SAC we interviewed Ms. Jessica Labenberg, the Center’s Advocacy Coordinator:
Q1: What is the mission of the sexual assault center?
“S.A.C. Mission: To provide healing for children, adults and families affected by sexual assault and to end sexual violence through counseling, education and advocacy.”
Q2: Does the center have programs that educate teens about sexual violence?
“Yes, here is a link to our webpage that discusses our prevention programs for teens. In addition to these specific programs, our education staff does frequent speaking engagements at Middle TN schools. http://www.sacenter.org/get-info/education-programs/”
Q3: If a survivor seeks help from the center, what kind of help can they expect to receive and what is the process that they might go through?
“Great question. Let me begin by explaining that in addition to primary survivors, we also provide counseling and advocacy to secondary survivors; i.e., parents/caregivers, siblings, and significant others. In answering this question, I am going to use the term “client” to encompass all survivors. Clients connect with us various ways. S.A.C. has a 24/7 crisis and support line, and an individual may call our support line and learn of our clinical and advocacy services and reach out to us that way. Individuals also find us on their own or are referred by medical providers, law enforcement, or DCS. To begin counseling here, a client first schedules an appointment with our Intake Specialist. We ask that everyone over 18 schedule their own appointment. Our Intake Specialist is an amazing clinician who is a survivor’s first face when beginning counseling. Our intake specialist will meet with the survivor and assess the trauma and connect with client with a counselor. When we have a wait list (which we often do), the intake specialist manages the waitlist. Clients will also meet with our billing manager at this time, too. S.A.C. never denies services based on someone’s inability to pay. We accept all insurances, TennCare, have a sliding scale fee, and some grants available. Clients find our advocacy services via our crisis and support line, too. The intake specialist and/or the client’s counselor also do referrals to the advocate. An individual does not need to be a counseling client to be an advocacy client (I get crisis calls directly to my office) and advocacy services are always free of charge. Our education staff and at times clinical team, do speaking engagements, health fairs, and community events and clients connect with us that way, too. Ultimately, when a survivor seeks help from the center, he/she can expect to be believed and supported.”
Q4: In general, what is the atmosphere like at the center?
“A description of the atmosphere will vary from client to client and staff person to staff person, but all descriptions will be positive. I’ve always felt that the atmosphere is one of acceptance and peace. I tell all my clients when I first meet them, “l believe you, I support you, and I know this is not your fault”. I let everyone know there is no right or wrong way to feel and no right or wrong decision to make about their case. There is peace because there is no judgment, and we accept you wherever you are on life’s path. When you are ready to begin counseling, we are ready to listen.”
Q5: What does the center do to get in touch with the community, moreover, how is your message about sexual assault communicated to the public?
“S.A.C. has a Development Team that maintains our Facebook and Twitter accounts as well two large events each year. In the spring, S.A.C. does “Walk in Their Shoes”, a 5k walk/run to raise awareness and celebrate the spirit of the survivor. Walk in Their Shoes is not just a 5k, but has bounce house, face painting, food trucks, etc. for families and community members. [Also] our Education Department regularly does speaking engagements in high schools for both students and parents. Quarterly our Education Department (in partnership with the TN Coalition) hosts a Collegiate Roundtable where local colleges/universities are invited to share programing and gain knowledge. S.A.C. does everything possible to be available for media inquires; i.e. interviews with reporters.One of the best ways our message gets out is via our volunteers.”
Q6: As the Advocacy Coordinator, what does your job entail? Can you explain how you became involved with the sexual assault center?
“As Advocacy Coordinator, I wear a lot of hat. My primary focus is victim advocacy. As a victim advocate I help survivors navigate the criminal justice system, respond to the hospital to provide support, make legal referrals for survivors interested in civil legal options, refer to court advocates survivors who are interested in obtaining an order of protection, assist in filing for victim’s compensation, safety planning and assist in survivors in finding emergency shelter or transitional housing. I also do volunteer management via our Hospital Accompaniment Program (HAP); recruiting, training, managing this program. I also do various trainings to community groups and partner agencies about sexual assault and some skills training about responding to crisis. I’ve had an unconventional career path. My education background is a B.A. in Art History followed by a J.D. I practiced briefly as prosecutor in PA (only state I was ever licensed in) before moving to RI where I paralegalled before transition into advocacy. When I moved to TN, I remained in the non-profit sector. While I have the legal background, I do not provide any legal advice; survivors needing an attorney are referred to one licensed in TN.”
Q7: In today’s society, the issue of sexual violence is increasingly prevalent on college campuses. Can you comment on the “rape culture” that we are facing at so many American universities?
“I think the rape culture we are facing on college campuses goes hand in hand with the culture of victim blaming that exists in our society. Vanderbilt’s Project Safe is doing a great job of raising awareness and educating students about what sexual assault is and what consent is.”
Our interview with Ms. Labenberg gave us insight to the kind of work that the SAC does and to the goals of the organization. They are dedicated to their clients and to the cause of educating the community about sexual violence, in the hopes that we can all thrive in a safe environment.
To learn more about the Sexual Assault Center, including their sponsored events such as Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, visit http://www.sacenter.org.Crisis & Support Line 1-800-879-1999