State Highlights Providers Who Continue to Support Sexual-assault Survivors During Pandemic

BOSTON — Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, state officials, and community advocates recently convened in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and to raise awareness of the supports available to survivors of sexual assault.

Representatives from the Commonwealth’s 16 regional Rape Crisis Centers, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program, and the Sexual Assault Response Unit within the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, who have served sexual-assault survivors over the past year in new and creative ways due to the COVID-19 public-health emergency, were recognized and shared available resources.

“The Baker-Polito administration is committed to recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and providing care, resources, and support for survivors of sexual assault across the Commonwealth to keep them safe and ensure access for all those who need it,” said Polito, chair of the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. “Every individual in every community across our Commonwealth deserves to live a life free from sexual assault, and while this work has been challenging during COVID-19, it is critically important that individuals and families know that they are not alone and that services, safety nets, and resources are available.”

Sudders added that “this has been an exceptionally difficult year in so many ways, and we are still learning the full impacts of COVID-19. For sexual-assault survivors, we know that trauma may be compounded by isolation and other factors brought by the pandemic. We are grateful for the work of advocates in rape crisis centers and other providers and members of this strong network across our Commonwealth, who have worked to ensure survivors of sexual assault have access to resources, and we will continue to collaborate and support them to best help survivors throughout and beyond this pandemic.”

During the COVID-19 public-health emergency, local and regional providers rapidly pivoted to remote services, helping meet the needs of Massachusetts residents. Last April, the Baker-Polito administration expanded and promoted SafeLink — the statewide 24/7 domestic violence hotline — to refer sexual-assault-related calls to local rape crisis centers. The administration also established isolation and recovery sites for individuals in shelter who tested positive for COVID-19, offering a safe, stable location to isolate and recover, while providing PPE and cleaning supplies and creating appropriate health and safety policies for survivors at the sites.

Throughout the pandemic, Massachusetts’ Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program — which includes SANE nurses in 40 hospitals across the Commonwealth — has continued operations, providing trauma-informed, expert forensic-nursing care to sexual assault patients across the lifespan.

To support adults with disabilities who are sexual-assault survivors, the Commonwealth created a first-in-the-nation dedicated Sexual Assault Response Unit within the Disabled Persons Protection Commission. This specific unit helps adults with disabilities navigate through the barriers they face when accessing trauma services, such as communication, transportation, and accessibility to help ensure that survivors are aware of the services available and to help meet their unique needs.

Anyone who is struggling with sexual assault is reminded that free, confidential, 24/7 support from a local rape crisis center is a phone call away. Call SafeLink at (877) 785-2020 or visit www.mass.gov/service-details/sexual-assault-prevention-and-survivor-services.