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Calls to sexual assault hotlines pour in; consent revisited

Women's March at Cal Anderson Park on Saturday, January 20, 2018, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
Women's March at Cal Anderson Park on Saturday, January 20, 2018, in Seattle.

Soon after the #MeToo scandals broke loose last fall, calls started pouring in to King County’s Sexual Assault Resource Center.

“More people are finding courage,” said Mary Ellen Stone, the center’s executive director. “The need is considerable.”

Stone was among the speakers at a King County forum Tuesday, centered on the theme of what the #MeToo movement means for various communities. The panel also discussed some of the response they’re seeing in local workplaces and county programs.

Stone noted that calls to the center’s 24-hour hotline shot up 50 percent since October and have stayed at that high level.

“It’s a good benchmark for us to say, ‘How many survivors are really out there?” Stone said.

Generally, Stone said most victims nationwide do not report sexual assault to the police. But now it seems more people are coming forward for help. Her center received 211 calls in January, up from 168 for the same month last year.

Another Seattle institution responding to the #MeToo movement is the University of Washington.

Sutapa Basu, director of the UW’s Women’s Center, noted during the forum that her staff was recently invited to give a training about consent to the athletic department and the football team – for the first time ever.

“That’s huge, because in that past … we just couldn’t get in there,” Basu told the crowd. “That’s progress.”

Basu said some training started a few years ago, but now it’s expanding.

The forum participants urged the county to put a long-term focus on #MeToo and issues connected to sexual violence and harassment.

They raised specific concerns around people who are immigrants, disabled, transgender, homeless or people of color, and called for more resources to help victims in these and other marginalized communities.

"There are special needs," said panelist Doris O’Neal, Domestic Violence Director at YWCA of Seattle/King County. "The county shouldn’t be afraid to create specialized services."

Speaking to the crowd of mostly women, O'Neal recounted a story about a white woman who asked her why black people need to have their own support group. 

"Sexual assault and domestic violence, it goes all the way back to slavery," O'Neal said. "Having a safe space for people to process and to heal is so important in our community." 


The panel also discussed the role of men in the #MeToo movement and ways for them to gain more understanding around consent and power dynamics.  

“The conversation about consent is super important,” said Peter Qualliotine, co-founder of the Seattle-based Organization for Prostitution Services. He also runs programs focused on men’s accountability.

In his trainings, Qualliotine said he cautions men that consent isn’t just a simple yes or no conversation.

“When I start talking about consent, for a lot of men it just becomes this new thing that they need to get, right? ‘I’m gonna get consent,’” Qualliotine said.

Instead, Qualliotine encourages people to view consent as a mutual process and to “just be there in the moment.”

It’s more like a way to be, he said, rather than a thing to get.

“Being raised in male supremacy has damaged us and our ability to engage with other people," Qualliotine said. "To own that and recognize that it creates significant blind spots for us — that’s going to be a perpetual process for us to disembody the sexism that we’ve learned to embody over time. Just like it’s a lifetime spent trying to unravel our whiteness and white supremacy, it’s going to be a lifelong process to work on our sexism.”

If you need help

Here are some resources for victims and survivors of abuse: King County Sexual Assault Resource Center 888-998-6423 Hotline for therapy, legal advocates and family services UW Medicine Center for Sexual Assault & Traumatic Stress 206-744-1600 Hotline, resources including counseling and medical care Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs List of providers across the state that offer free services. Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) 800-656-4673 Hotline and/or online chat with trained staff YWCA’s Sexual Violence Legal Line 844-999-7857 Legal assistance and representation

Year started with KUOW: 2006