Amber Padilla-Peter’s voice rose among those of fellow survivors who choked up while sharing their stories of sexual violence. 

“We have children,” Padilla-Peter said. “We don’t want our children to go through the same thing that we did, so let’s make a better future for them by educating and showing that we can do better.”

Attendees at a recent community discussion on rape crisis centers fought back tears or sat in silence, listening to stories from survivors and advocates who shared a collective message: It’s time for the Tucson community to listen and take action.  

Allie Bones, CEO of Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, and her team started the open discussions about a need for rape crisis centers last month. 

Based in Phoenix, ACESDV works to end sexual and domestic violence throughout Arizona. The coalition started advocating the state legislature to address current needs for funding and the development of “fully functioning rape crisis centers.” 

“It is a travesty that the state of Arizona, with 7 million people, doesn’t have a single rape crisis center,” Bones said. “There are 1,300 rape crisis centers in the United States, and none of them are in the State of Arizona.”

Rape crisis center are institutions that care for victims of sexual violence by offering counseling services, crisis intervention and prevention education.

The coalition met with community members and organizations last month at YWCA Southern Arizona to talk about the lack of rape crisis centers in Arizona, particularly in Tucson.  About 50 community representatives, including several male attendees of different races, expertise and backgrounds, met to share ideas on how to help support victims. 

According to Bones, the involvement and engagement of the community are a priority for her coalition, and they look forward to producing a report in the coming months to help communities “advocate for what people need in terms of a rape crisis center.” 

“I don’t really know when people are going to understand,” said Alba Jaramillo, director of Women Out of Poverty Initiative and Latina Leadership Institute at YWCA. “People have a lot of biases, viewpoints that are not victim-friendly. There’s a lot of rape myths.” 

Women of color, undocumented immigrants, indigenous peoples, non-English speakers and those facing financial insecurity all struggle when trying to reach out for help, Jaramillo said. She added that a lack of policies, language boundaries for non-English speakers, lack of advocates and lawyers to help indigenous and undocumented victims all indicate the severity of the rape crisis in Tucson. 

Stephanie Green, vice president of nursing at CODAC Health, Recovery and Wellness Inc., and director of Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, said that rape cases have been “historically underreported.”

“It’s been something we’ve been very passive about as a nation socially,” she said. “So to bring it to the surface, bring it to the light is the only way we’re going to be able to prevent it.” 

According to Green, CODAC is the only nursing team in the region which performs specialty exams for victims. She said victims tend to refrain from seeking services for forensic sexual assault examinations. While personal reasons vary from one victim to another, most don’t want to be re-traumatized by going through an examination after being raped.

Ivonne Gaitan, a former crisis advocate for Su Voz Vale, a bilingual-bicultural program, understands the importance of prevention education and the role advocates play to help victims. 

A survivor who spent years working on reducing sexual violence in the Hispanic community, Gaitan said that lack of program’s like Su Voz Vale, or “Your Voice Counts,” puts a burden on community organizations to answer the needs of Spanish-speaking women.

Attendees at the forum agreed that the lack of legal advocacy, prevention education, difficulties with insurance and failure from the side of organizations to provide services to victims were among the top issues in the region. 

Bones recognized attendees who came in with their “passion and experience,” manifested “courage and resilience” as they discussed the need for rape crisis center in Tucson. 

When asking what the next chapter in their mission would be, Bones said they would put for at least 15 crisis centers in the state.

Dalal Radwan is a University of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.

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