My View: 'Polite women' still battling scourge of domestic, sexual violence

Forty years ago, very few people openly discussed sexual and domestic violence, and services for survivors were essentially nonexistent.

In Portland in 1972, a group of women in their early 20s came together to do something to fill that void. When they visited a local nonprofit to ask for help creating a crisis line for sexual assault survivors, they were sternly told by the organization’s director that “polite women don’t talk about rape.”

Thankfully, these women persevered and incorporated the Rape Relief Hotline in 1973. Two years later, the organization changed its name to the Portland Women’s Crisis Line and expanded services to support domestic violence survivors.

At PWCL, we believe that everyone deserves a life free of domestic and sexual violence. PWCL operates Oregon’s largest crisis line for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and answers about 24,000 calls per year. In addition, approximately 425 unduplicated survivors each year receive follow-up advocacy, often referred to as case management, from one of PWCL’s four direct service advocates.

Survivors may also access: emergency housing; both national and local transportation assistance to get away from a dangerous location to a safe one; support groups for survivors of sexual assault and for adult survivors of childhood trauma; or in-person medical advocacy at local hospitals immediately following a sexual assault.

In addition to serving survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, and/or stalking, each of PWCL’s direct service advocates also serves survivors experiencing homelessness, youth survivors between the ages of 15 to 23, survivors with developmental disabilities, and adults impacted by the sex industry.

The reality is that sexual and domestic violence occur at epidemic proportions. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, more than one in three women and one in four men have experienced physical violence, rape and/or stalking perpetrated by an intimate partner.

In 2011, there were more than 24,000 requests for domestic violence shelter that went unmet in Oregon because local programs lacked the resources to accommodate them. More than 140 Oregonians have been victims of domestic violence related homicides since 2009.

The basic fact is that in the Portland area, sexual and domestic violence is a significant problem that is incredibly under-resourced. If survivors had access to basic emergency services, the cycles of violence in their lives would be interrupted.

The recent legislative squabble over reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is proof that everyday Americans still don’t understand the prevalence nor the devastating impact sexual and domestic violence has, not just on individuals and families, but on society as a whole. Every time an advocate at PWCL picks up the phone, she or he is doing something about that impact. By telling a survivor that they do not deserve to be abused and that the violence they experienced wasn’t their fault, change is created each and every day.

PWCL’s crisis line number has never changed in its 40 years. This means that no matter how old the brochure or sticker posted in a public location, a survivor who finds PWCL’s number can have immediate access to safety planning, crisis intervention, information and referral, and support. PWCL acts as a clearinghouse not only for survivors, but also for those who care about them.

Every day, PWCL is accessed by other social service agencies, faith leaders, teachers, doctors and law enforcement seeking assistance to help a survivor. PWCL’s Volunteer & Outreach Program reaches more than 1,200 community members a year, offering information and assistance about issues related to domestic and sexual violence.

Our community events, such as our annual Bike Back the Night in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, draw hundreds of individuals committed to supporting survivors. Engaging the community is essential to the organization’s success because we know that one of a survivor’s greatest resources is a community that supports them.

PWCL is celebrating that hard work through our annual event, Safety In Numbers, on Friday, April 5, at the Melody Ballroom. The event is a dinner and silent auction and will be followed by a birthday party that begins at 8 p.m. Birthday party tickets are only $20 and include dancing, food and birthday cake as well as access to raffles and a photo booth.

Please join in the celebration of our legacy and support our efforts to end domestic and sexual violence.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or sexual violence, please call 1-888-235-5333 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. To learn more about PWCL or to purchase tickets to our event, visit

Rebecca Nickels is executive director of the Portland Women’s Crisis Line.

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