Sexual assault is an intensely personal crime, and it is a national health crisis that affects men, women, and children of all races and classes. STAR is “here to make sure survivors know regardless of what type of sexual trauma they’ve had, we are here to support them in that. Our goal is to make sure everyone who has been touched by sexual trauma, even parents and friends, feels supported,” Kirsten Raby, Capital Area Regional Director of STAR, declares.
The history of STAR goes back to 1975, when a group of community members saw a need for services for survivors of rape. They connected with the District Attorney’s Office and created the Rape Crisis Center, which helped survivors for more than 30 years. When Hillar Moore became D.A., Racheal Hebert, the Crisis Center volunteer coordinator, approached him and presented the idea that the Center could accomplish more if they separated from the D.A. Office. He agreed and gave her the Crisis Center budget, the seed money to begin STAR, which stands for Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response. Hebert developed STAR in 2011 and began with a staff of three. Today, STAR is active in three cities—New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria—and employs 30 people.
STAR helps sexual trauma survivors by offering crisis counseling, a 24/7 hotline, 24/7 hospital advocacy, advocacy groups, and legal support. To advocate for survivors means to publicly support them, wherever needed. STAR opens their doors to survivors to talk in groups like the Teen Trauma Group or for private counseling at no cost.
Survivors mostly come to STAR through the hotline. When a person calls in, a STAR employee or volunteer works through that crisis moment with the survivor and offers resources. “It all depends on what they want. We are about empowerment for what they want their decisions to be. If they want to report it, we guide them. If they don’t, we connect them to other resources. Through an advocacy appointment, an advocate will work through their needs. A person can’t focus on the trauma that they’re feeling until they’ve met their immediate needs. We want to meet those first and focus on healing after,” Raby explains. Hotline callers may have experienced trauma at any time in their lives.
On the other hand, a survivor at the hospital is in an immediate situation, having experienced the trauma that day or two days before. STAR works with all area hospitals, and each hospital has a sexual assault protocol that they follow. Raby explains the process, “Once a survivor presents at a hospital (usually through the ER), the nursing staff will talk with the survivor and offer to have us there, then they call our hotline to request an advocate. The hotline volunteer then contacts a staff member who will notify the Part-Time Medical Advocate (PTMA) to let them know where to go and who to meet with.” The PTMA works with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and supports the survivor. “Everything we do is about empowering survivors. Their rights to No’s and decisions have been taken away, so we want to give them those decisions back,” says Raby.
STAR extends beyond their walls and the hospitals. Through Community Education, STAR works to create change through trainings and workshops on healthy sexuality, dynamics of sexual violence, and sexual trauma. The Community Education department educates parents and students on what sexual and dating violence are so they can recognize signs and take steps to prevent them. STAR also goes into schools and teaches about dating, healthy relationships, consent, and good communication.
STAR continues to expand into new spaces to impact communities for change. One goal is to end the shame that accompanies sexual violence by “bringing it all into the open,” according to Raby. “Everything we do is in a way to destigmatize it.” One unique way to combat shame is through their Truth Out Loud grant, which will empower survivors to tell their stories.
Raby says that the first thing you can do to support survivors is to “start by believing them. Survivors go through a lot when they report a sexual assault. Listen to them.” ■