Red Cross announces rape crisis hotline

WINTERSVILLE – Officials with the American Red Cross Jefferson County Chapter held an open house Monday to announce they now are offering rape crisis services for area residents, including the implementation of a 24-hour hotline.

The hotline service, which can be reached at (740) 512-6092, will provide emotional support, information and referrals to callers who have been affected by sexual assault or abuse. Callers do not necessarily have to be victims themselves, according to Michelle Cowley, Red Cross rape crisis director and counselor. She said anyone seeking advice or help with issues related to sexual abuse, even on behalf of someone else, is welcome to call.

“There’s no cost, and it’s all confidential. I’ll be helping people work through their trauma. Helping them work through the experience they just had or have been living with for years of their life so that they can make peace with it, find meaning from it, or just even function better day to day. Some of the people I’ve spoken with just can’t even get out of bed. So helping them find that motivation again in their life is important. Sometimes it’s about stopping the cycle. We want them to realize that there’s hope, to feel safe again and that they’re not alone,” Cowley said. She has more than 10 years of experience counseling trauma victims in Summit County.

Services are being offered along with the hotline, including hospital support, court support, police support and personal counseling to begin the recovery process.

Educational programs for all ages are available and cover topics such as abduction prevention, sexual harassment, date rape and self-esteem assertiveness training.

The Jefferson County chapter also tries to help sexual assault victims with another program called the Sweatsuit Project.

“The Sweatsuit Project is something we do for rape survivors at the hospitals. We take sweat pants and sweat shirts to them, because when the police take their clothing for evidence, they need to have something to come home in. So we provide them with sweat suits and some comfort items that they can use,” Kathy Musso, executive director and case manager, said.

Regarding the new services and hotline, Musso said, “If someone’s looking for a good volunteer opportunity, this is perfect for them. We’re very happy to be providing this service in the community. It’s taken us about a year to get to this point, going through all the hoops and training involved. We are also being assisted by the Stark County Chapter of the Red Cross who has been doing a rape crisis center for a number of years. Our goal is to provide services to those in the community, to make them feel safer.”

Nearly one out of every five women has been raped in their lifetime, and more than 27 percent of women have experienced unwanted sexual contact, according to the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, Ohio’s statewide sexual assault coalition and a partner helping support the Red Cross’ efforts in Jefferson County.

Those interested in volunteering can contact Musso at (740) 264-7244.