MARION — The services offered to survivors of sexual assault at Riverview Center is a “best-kept secret” in Marion, program director Gwen Bramlet-Hecker said.
The nonprofit dedicated to providing free and confidential advocacy and therapy for sexual assault survivors in Eastern Iowa is hosting a “Celebration of Healing” this week to promote its services.
“Our work is quiet,” Bramlet-Hecker said. “We have to be quiet in our work because we always want to be perceived as a safe space. But our services don’t matter if people don’t know about us.”
The open house and Celebration of Healing is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at the office at 685 Ninth Ave. in Marion. The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance will host a ribbon cutting at 12:30 p.m. Refreshments will be provided.
Riverview Center opened in Dubuque and Galena, Ill., 26 years ago. The center expanded its services in 2013, and now covers 16 counties in Iowa and Illinois. Its Eastern Iowa office opened in 2014.
From July 2017 to June 2018, Riverview served 240 clients in Eastern Iowa, Bramlet-Hecker said.
“I think people would be shocked at the prevalence of sexual violence in their community,” she said. “Survivors deserve healing, and we’re all better for it if we find a way to help them heal.”
Riverview Center often is the first call area hospitals make when a victim of sexual assault is treated in the emergency room. Iowa Code requires a survivor of sexual trauma have an advocate — such as one of Riverview’s trained professionals — with them throughout the entire process, whatever that may be, Bramlet-Hecker said.
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When an advocate arrives at the hospital, they educate the client about who they are, what services they offer and what the client’s options are, such as filing a police report, doing a rape kit or simply signing up for counseling and therapy.
“We want to empower them to do the work themselves,” Bramlet-Hecker said. “It’s encouraging them, so when they walk out the door they can say, ‘Wow, look what I did for myself. I’ve experienced trauma, but look what I’m able to do to care for myself.’ ”
Bramlet-Hecker calls it a “warm handoff.”
A survivor’s story is theirs to tell when they choose to tell it and in whatever way they wish, Bramlet-Hecker said.
That’s why free services are really important to Riverview.
Bramlet-Hecker said that when someone has to deal with insurance it can force them to share their story before they’re ready to or avoid getting services altogether.
“My daughter is a survivor, and if she was in need of services and I was unable to pay for them, I think about as a parent how devastating that would be,” Bramlet-Hecker said.
To maintain its free services, Riverview receives funding from Violence Against Women Act and Victims of Crime Act, restitution-based funds, the Attorney General’s Office, county supervisors, United Way, community foundations and individual donors. Bramlet-Hecker calls it the “nonprofit dance.”
Riverview also prioritizes prevention services.
Clare Dieter, an advocate at Riverview, visits local schools to teach students about body autonomy, how to say “no,” and how to ask for help.
It’s teaching consent to preschoolers, she said.
Dieter also works as a sexual assault advocate, meeting survivors in the hospital, taking them to court, helping them file non-contact orders and helping them find housing and transportation when needed.
Basically, Dieter makes sure people recovering from trauma has the resources they need.
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Riverview Center always is looking for more volunteers. Every volunteer goes through 30 hours of training through the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault. They can volunteer to be advocates who respond to people in crisis, answer the phones or help with events.
Applications to volunteer can be found at riverviewcenter.org.
Angie Purdy, Riverview’s incoming public relations and development director, started her career at Riverview as a volunteer.
Purdy said working for Riverview is “true to my heart.”
As a court-appointed special advocate who works with foster children, Purdy has experience working in victim services.
“Working for an organization whose mission is to end violence in our communities is so valuable to me,” Purdy said.
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