Collins Center to mark 25th year with community meeting

newspaper-headerTwenty-five years ago tragedy struck the Harrisonburg community with the death of Shirley Collins.  In the aftermath of that act of sexual violence, a dynamic group of people came together to create CASA-Citizens Against Sexual Assault, which is now called the Collins Center.  This growing non-profit, located in downtown Harrisonburg, models and promotes the prevention of child sexual abuse, and provides excellence in sexual assault response and treatment in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

A special Emeritus Board Meeting will be held on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 from 5:30-7:00pm at the Massanutten Regional Library, in order to bring together early organizers and acknowledge their hard work and vision.  The meeting, which will focus on celebrating the organization’s history and growth, will kick off the Collins Center’s 25th Anniversary fundraising campaign to ensure the future of the agency’s valuable community resources and services.

Those who were involved in the community’s response to tragedy in 1987 took careful steps to assess the need and be strategic in creating a solid program that would enhance collaboration with existing resources and professionals working with victims and survivors.  Planning committee members and the first board members of the organization represented mental health, non-profit, offender treatment, law enforcement, and University sectors of Harrisonburg & Rockingham County.  Joann Grayson, PHD and professor of psychology at James Madison University, worked with the “Direct Service Committee” of the then newly formed agency CASA, to survey local ministers and mental health providers about the services provided and need in the community of victims of sexual violence.  Their study showed that 35% of ministers and 83% of therapists surveyed had worked with sexual abuse victims in the previous 2 years.  Training and education about, and more referral resources for child sexual abuse, rape crisis intervention, and legal/medical needs of victims were all identified as needs by most of the ministers and mental health providers.  Grayson now comments, “Since over three-fourths of the sexual assault incidents discussed with ministers and with therapists over the prior two years involved assaults when the victim was a child, I strongly encouraged the Center to allocate resources to intervention, treatment, and prevention with children. I was delighted when the Collins Center established the Child Advocacy Center as an addition to their long-standing child abuse prevention programs in schools and in the community.  Sexual abuse and sexual assault prevention should be a priority for every community. Although prompt, caring and skilled treatment with evidence-based intervention methods can result in considerable symptom improvement fairly rapidly, the hurt and harm from sexual assault or sexual abuse can last a lifetime. The Collins Center has been a vital part of our community for 25 years and deserves support for the important work that they do.”  From October 1988 to February 1991, CASA served 62 primary victims of sexual violence through crisis hotline, medical and legal advocacy & accompaniment, and office contacts.

Data released from The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011, shows that one in three females and one in five males in Virginia have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.[1]  Locally, the Collins Center serves approximately 600 men, women and children affected by sexual violence through all of their programs each year, with education and prevention efforts reaching nearly 3,000 more community members. The Child Advocacy Center program will serve over 140 children and their families this fiscal year.  In 2011, Harrisonburg Police Department received 72 calls for service related to sexual assaults and Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office investigated 94 cases involving sexual assaults.  The Collins Center coordinates response to both children and adult victims through the collaborative Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) which is comprised of local law enforcement, social services, medical and mental health providers, and the Office of the Commonwealth Attorney to review cases on a regular basis and improve the response to victims.

From a small staff and volunteer run grass-roots program to the agency that the Collins Center has grown to become, Harrisonburg & Rockingham County have responded to the direct needs of the adults, children and families in the community.  For example, the Collins Center expanded mental health services in 2007 to provide professional therapy for children and family members dealing with sexual abuse, particularly to fill a gap in services for uninsured, underinsured clients and children with Medicaid. Identified areas for needed expansion and growth for services currently include increasing the percentage of children seen for non-acute medical evaluation.  In the past two years, only 5-10% of CAC cases received an abuse specific medical exam; the majority of those completed were for evidence collection through a specialized forensic medical exam by a Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner at Rockingham Memorial Hospital.  Because children don’t usually report immediately after an assault or because the abuse may have been ongoing, but historical, there rarely is immediate medical physical evidence, but children and families still have medical concerns related to the abuse.  In addition, the Collins Center has the need for another therapist, advocate, and forensic interviewer as the workload and services of current staff has increased dramatically over the past several years (see tables below).

The Collins Center serves the community through its programs: Sexual Assault Crisis Services,Prevention & Education, Mental Health Treatment, and the Child Advocacy Center.  The Sexual Assault Crisis Program advocates for those affected by sexual violence through crisis services, support groups, and medical and legal accompaniment services. The Prevention Programs work to strengthen relationships through education in order to end violence in our community. The Treatment Programstrives to provide quality, accessible, mental health services in our community. The Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is a multidisciplinary partnership promoting the safety and well-being of children through prevention, treatment and a coordinated response to child abuse.

The Collins Center, a United Way community partner, has served the Harrisonburg and Rockingham Community for 25 years.  In January 2007, the organization expanded and changed its name from Citizens Against Sexual Assault (CASA).  The Collins Center models and promotes the prevention of child sexual abuse, and provides excellence in sexual assault response and treatment in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. The Collins Center serves the community through its programs: Sexual Assault Crisis ServicesPrevention & EducationMental Health Treatment, and the Child Advocacy Center


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