“The Incredible Value of Listening”: BARCC as a Vital Source of Support for Survivors and Communities

This piece was originally published in October 2020.

*Content warning: This article discusses topics concerning rape and sexual violence.

BARCC official website: https://barcc.org

BARCC 24-hour hotline: 800-841-8371

Web chat hotline –  https://barcc.org/help/services/hotline

Office: 617-492-8306

“For those supporting survivors, I think we just need to remember the incredible value of listening and being there for someone so that they can be validated for what they are feeling and experiencing,” says Eliza Campbell, MSW. “Listening is the most powerful thing we can do.”

And Eliza would know. Not only has she been doing sexual violence work since college, volunteering on a hotline and working as a youth advocate at a small rape crisis center prior to getting her master’s degree in social work; but she is also the Outreach and Education Manager of BARCC.

            Founded in 1973, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) is the only comprehensive rape crisis center in the Greater Boston area and serves a total of 29 surrounding cities and towns. They offer a multitude of free and confidential services help support, inform and advocate for survivors of sexual assault in their community. 

College students in particular, says Campbell, can benefit from the services provided by the center.

“For a lot of college students, they like knowing that there is an external resource to their college that exists outside of that bubble of their campus”, explains Campbell. “Services are completely confidential, and we don’t look at insurance, so there’s no need for concern if folks are on parents’ insurance.”

Such services provided for survivors include access to 24-hour hotlines, counseling and support groups, and case management options.

BARCC’s 24-hour hotline and web chat hotline provides access to trained rape crisis counselors who offer support and information for all those who get in contact. They also offer connections to other BARCC services and can speak with professionals such as medical staff and youth workers on behalf of survivors. The center also provides short term in-person counseling with licensed clinicians and counselors through individual, couple, family, and group sessions. Their support is applicable at any point in the healing process.

BARCC is there to not only listen to survivors of sexual assault, but to inform and advocate for them as well. Such advocacy includes medical and legal advocacy. Much like with hotline personnel, legal and medical advocates are trained rape crisis counselors who aide and inform survivors during the different processes that might arise after an assault.

Medical advocates are able to stay with survivors during a hospital or emergency room visit in order to advocate for their needs with the medical staff. They also provide crucial information concerning examinations and other procedures and serve as a source of support for the survivor. If the survivor goes to a hospital that is part of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program, they will automatically call BARCC for a medical advocate. If the emergency room is not part of the SANE program, the survivor can ask the hospital to call BARCC’s hotline to request a medical advocate.

Legal advocates are lawyers and rape crisis counselors with specialized legal training whose job is to assist survivors as they go through civil and criminal legal systems (including campus processes) and help them understand their rights and options after any form of sexual violence. For college students in particular, this includes looking at rights under Title IX.

“We know that there are some big changes that are potentially going into effect this fall that are unfortunately not survivor centered or trauma informed”, says Campbell. “Our legal advocacy team is there to answer all of your questions.”

The Title IX changes that Campbell is referring to are the new federal regulations announced May 2020 by the Department of Education that change how colleges must respond to sexual assault claims. The regulations, which are included in a 2,000-page document and have gone into effect in mid-August 2020, give “more rights to accused students and lessens reporting mandates for employees” (Lavigne 2020). 

Such changes include allowing for live hearings and cross-examinations of the accusing student, and mandates that schools are only required to respond to allegations of sexual assault that occur on campus. More information concerning these new regulations can be found online, and again, BARCC’s legal advocates are there to answer any questions.

Legal advocates also can offer information and support in areas such as filing police reports, pursuing a case in civil court, school and employer policies, and one’s rights as an immigrant. They can accompany survivors to the police station and court, issue legal representation referrals, and meet with survivors in person or over the phone. The safety and privacy of the survivor is of the utmost importance to advocates, and BARCC works with the police, district attorneys, schools, and other institutions in order to ensure welfare and justice.

BARCC’s services and support extend beyond survivors of sexual assault and aid communities as well. BARCC is both a huge legislative advocate (links to the legislation and policies they have supported are found on their website) and a crucial source of education in its community. 

The organization’s education and prevention team offer trainings, speakers, and workshops for community organizations, police, businesses and schools in the Greater Boston area. 

These trainings, which are often led by Eliza Campbell as the Outreach and Education Manager, cover topics such as understanding sexual violence and trauma, supporting survivors, effectively responding to occurrences of sexual assault, and creating school and workplace cultures that reduce the instances of assault. Others, at the more administrative level, train leaders on policy development and assault response and prevention. 

During this time of social distancing, BARCC is offering online training webinars in lieu of in-person training. A particular focus in webinars has been how to support survivors during the time of COVID-19.

“We talked about basic foundational information on the topic of ‘What does it mean to support a survivor?’, says Campbell. “Which is always important, no matter the circumstances.”

And still, whether socially distanced or not, BARCC advocates that the first step in supporting survivors means listening above all else, Campbell continued.

“Maybe it’s human nature, but we have an urge to try and fix things and take something that may be really painful and hard and put a silver lining around it…Just know that listening is the most powerful thing to do, and just try and avoid that urge to immediately try and ‘fix’.”

Cassidy Guimares is a staff writer for The Hub. She can be contacted at guimaresc@emmanuel.edu.

Survivors and those looking to support survivors can access BARCC’s services through the links below.

BARCC official website: https://barcc.org

BARCC 24-hour hotline: 800-841-8371

Web chat hotline –  https://barcc.org/help/services/hotline

Office: 617-492-8306

Sources used for this article:

“Boston Area Rape Crisis Center.” BARCC. https://barcc.org/. 

Lavigne, Paula. “New Title IX Regulations Change How Colleges Must Respond to Sexual Misconduct Complaints.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, May 7, 2020. https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/29144365/new-title-ix-regulations-change-how-colleges-respond-sexual-misconduct-complaints.