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Sexual assault services in Maine could get a boost in critical funding

A number of bills to increase services for victims of sexual assault are pending before state lawmakers.

WINTHROP, Maine — According to the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, one in five Mainers will experience some type of sexual violence in their lifetimes.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and advocates say resources and support are needed to help victims heal and move forward. Critical services could get a significant boost of funding from lawmakers this session.

Susan Beaulieu was a 21-year-old college student when she said she was raped by her friend's boyfriend.

"The first thing I wanted to do was get into the shower," Beaulieu said. 

Shocked, confused, and mad—but she wasn't ready to get help from a sexual assault advocate, standing by at the hospital. 

Now a teacher and mother of six, Susan recalls reaching out to Sexual Assault and Crisis Support Center, several years later. The center serves about 3,500 people annually in Somerset and Kennebec counties, providing one-on-one counseling and support group services to children and adults. 

Susan called the 24-helpline often and said meeting with other survivors made her feel that she wasn't alone. 

"It made me feel stronger as a person, that I could get through it," she added. 

Executive Director Donna Strickler said as the number of people experiencing sexual violence continues to rise, so is the need to address their mental health. 

A bill, LD 816, is pending before state lawmakers that would fund mental health workers at each of the state's seven sexual assault centers. Providers would be trained to deal with the mental health needs of victims of sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual violence, and trauma. 

"To have somebody embedded at a sexual assault center where trauma is involved and they can seek out support services, to have someone available to remove the barriers," Strickler explained.

According to the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, nearly 40 percent of sexual assault advocates left their jobs last year, a turnover rate that is twice the national average. One of the reasons behind the exodus is reportedly low wages.

Another bill, LD 566, would provide three million dollars in funding to boost wages and help the staffing crisis before the Legislature's appropriations committee. But Donna said there is still a huge need for volunteers, people who step up will receive training and support.  

Susan said her attacker was never held accountable and has since passed away. Since her attack, she has put in countless hours as a volunteer, from being a comforting voice on the phone, to meeting with victims at the hospital. 

"If it wasn't for the support of the center, and other supports in place as well, I definitely wouldn't be where I am today," Susan said about giving back and moving forward with her healing process.

If you ever need help, Maine has a 24-hour sexual assault crisis and support line at 1-800-871-7741.

NEWS CENTER Maine is also a sponsor of the 12th annual "One in 5K" event, which will take place at FirstPark in Oakland on Sunday, April 24, benefiting the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center.

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