A Sign of Hope

Local rape counseling center is the first of its kind in the nation

The first counseling center in Nevada devoted exclusively to providing support for victims of sexual assault opens Feb. 19, thanks to a collaboration between the Rape Crisis Center, UNLV and Nevada Women’s Philanthropy.

Signs of Hope, on the College of Southern Nevada campus, will provide individual and group therapy to victims of sexual assault ages 12 and older, while also serving as a training ground for graduate students in UNLV’s Counselor Education Department. Center officials say it’s the first center of its kind nationally that will collaborate with a major university.

“We are so excited,” Rape Crisis Center executive director Lu Torres says. “This was a vision about four and a half years ago when I first started at Rape Crisis Center.”

The Rape Crisis Center is called in by area hospitals to provide emergency intervention to nearly 700 victims a year, while their rape hotline receives nearly 7,000 calls a year. Until now, victims and callers have been referred to three area therapists and often have to wait as long as six weeks for an appointment. Now, they will be able to come to a center where a therapist and UNLV grad students will be on hand.

Therapy is integral to healing following sexual assault, Torres says. “It’s not uncommon for us to get a hotline call for someone who was assaulted 10, 20 years ago and they never were able to tell someone, they hid it and now they realize that maybe their eating disorder, their drinking problem [may be related]. There are just so many aspects of rape trauma syndrome,” she says.

Rape is prevalent in Las Vegas. According to the Department of Justice, in 2009 the national average of forcible rape within metropolitan areas was 28.7 incidents per 100,000 residents. Las Vegas’ statistic for that year was 42.5 incidents per 100,000 residents.

Signs of Hope is possible thanks to a $350,000 grant from Nevada Women’s Philanthropy, a nonprofit organization that funds a variety of programs annually. Nearly 80 NWP members each donate $5,000 a year and then vote on which organization they will fund, following a rigorous selection process.

NWP President Dana Lee said they selected Signs of Hope this year because of its anticipated impact on women in Southern Nevada, but also because of the collaboration with UNLV and the potential benefit to the community. “We really just hope by having this open that there’s a safe haven, that there’s a place that women can receive the counseling and emergency counseling that they need to become whole,” Lee says.