Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 | 2 a.m.
The mood was bittersweet at the grand opening of the new office space for the Rape Crisis Center of Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Situated in the same office park off Charleston Boulevard east of downtown, the center's new location is 3,000 square feet larger than the previous one and has more room for counseling, advocacy and support services to better serve victims of sexual violence in Clark County, as the organization has done since 1974. But the move also signifies that the need for these services is as great as, if not greater than, ever before.
The nonprofit center experienced a 20 percent spike in calls to its 24-hour hotline in 2018 compared with the previous year and saw requests for its free counseling services increase by 35 percent compared with 2017 numbers. As a result, the wait list for counseling reached an all-time high.
For Executive Director Daniele Staple, increased demand for services reflects both the continued prevalence of sexual violence and an increased awareness about the issue. In particular, Staple said that more people feel comfortable speaking about sexual assault and abuse in the wake of #MeToo, an international movement to end sexual assault and harassment that began in October 2017 following multiple high-profile revelations of sexual assault and harassment.
“A lot of it goes back to #MeToo and the fact that survivors right now are very empowered to seek assistance and seek help,” Staple said.
While the need for sexual assault services in Clark County may be greater than ever, so too is community support for the cause. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Metro Police Capt. John Pelletier attended the center's grand opening and spoke about efforts in the county, state and nation to help victims of sexual violence and prevent these crimes.
In her remarks, Cortez Masto spoke about the severity of sexual violence as well as human trafficking in Nevada, and praised the community organizations, law enforcement and volunteers working to end these phenomena.
“The Rape Crisis Center of Las Vegas is a crucial part of this effort,” Cortez Masto said. “Its legacy of providing free counseling, crisis hotline and support services to survivors in Southern Nevada has made it a bedrock in our community for over 40 years.”
An outspoken advocate for victims of human trafficking, Cortez Masto spoke about legislation she introduced in January that would offer law enforcement additional training to identify signs of sexual exploitation. The Interdiction for the Protection of Child Victims of Exploitation and Human Trafficking Act, Cortez Masto said, was partly inspired by listening to the needs of the community during her tenure as attorney general of Nevada.
“This education piece, you will know, is so important. And it is organizations like the RCC that help us work within our communities,” Cortez-Masto said.
Titus, whose district houses the center, addressed the crowd about the need to continue to fund the federal Violence Against Women Act, take firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers and curb the relatively high rate of domestic violence in Nevada. Her comments on House Bill H.R. 6629, which would authorize courts to require domestic abusers to relinquish firearms, received widespread applause.
The recent increase in calls to the crisis center correlates with an increase in police investigations in Las Vegas into rape and sexual assault over the last few years. Metro investigated 1,594 rape cases in 2018, 364 more than in 2017.
But Pelletier emphasized that those numbers reflect a greater willingness to speak up about sexual violence and less stigma associated with being the victim of those crimes.
“In the beginning of last year when #MeToo came out, there were some reporting increases attributed to that,” Pelletier said. “I think that’s a great thing if people feel emboldened enough to talk about the crime that occurred.”
Pelletier added that there was a 29 percent reduction in sexual assault on the Strip in 2018, which could be attributed to a concerted effort on behalf of his unit to eradicate the problem. Metro recently rolled out a course, he noted, that helps casino and hotel workers, including security officers, bartenders, servers and cooks, identify perpetrators of sexual assault.
The course was drafted with input from the crisis center. Staple said this and other efforts reflect the department’s commitment to addressing sexual violence.
“With Metro’s partnership, we are beginning to change norms in our security and nightlife industry,” she said in her remarks.
In its new, larger physical space, the center has been able to add an art-focused support group and a group for victims of sex trafficking. In addition, the center continues to educate students in local schools and elsewhere about sexual violence as part of its effort to prevent these crimes before they occur.
Above all, the center is eager to reduce the size of its counseling wait list, which includes people coming to terms with sexual abuse from years ago, men and women and, increasingly, children. The organization recently hired a therapist trained to work with children under 10 years old.
“We’re seeing the whole gamut of different situations,” Staple said.
Victims of sexual violence in Clark County can reach the Rape Crisis Center hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 702-366-1640.