ACCESS provides support for assault survivors

ACCESS provides shelter and counseling to victims of abuse. 

ACCESS provides shelter and counseling to victims of abuse. 

Erin Gruba

Informing everyone on the importance of sexual assault awareness is imperative to a society that hopes no one has to worry about whether their day will consist of a sexual assault.

No one understands this better than the people at ACCESS, which stands for Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support. Founded in 1974 mainly as a crisis service hotline, ACCESS served the people of Story County and ISU students with the purpose of bringing light to issues such as sexual assault and domestic violence.

ACCESS has since expanded to assist four other counties: Boone, Greene, Marshall and Tama. About 300 students volunteer for the program each year. Some work directly with survivors and intern there, while others do service projects.

The program doesn’t have to report to law enforcement if someone comes in for help, which sets ACCESS apart from other organizations.  

Lori Allen, sexual abuse campus advocate for ACCESS and campus liaison, said the program has “privileged confidentiality,” meaning it is not a mandatory reporter to authorities. ACCESS only share what clients ask it to.

ACCESS members discuss options such as filing a legal report, pressing charges or just talk about the healing process.

Members of the organization help survivors through legal processes, but only if the person wants the assistance. They help them communicate with attorneys, law enforcement and the university by contacting professors to negotiate with them on how to successfully pass classes.

They refer survivors to therapists or counseling if it is a better fit for them.

“We’re sort of like the friend who knows everything about the system,” Allen said.

All services are free, and a survivor can withdraw at any time. Angie Schreck, executive director of ACCESS, said the core service is the crisis response.

“That’s something that we’re never going to move away from – we always want to be immediately available if a survivor has safety needs or needs that they feel are immediate,” Schreck said.

A more unique side of the services is those who heal. In the past, ACCESS has paid for people to attend one-on-one yoga activities called trauma-informed yoga to help the person get on a path to recovery.

Survivors can also express themselves through art and exhibit their work through the Survivor’s Art Program. Schreck said the next exhibit will be April 2 and 3 at the Ames Public Library.

Anyone who has been impacted by what happened to the survivor is also considered a victim, otherwise known as secondary victims.

If secondary victims or witnesses reach out to ACCESS, the organization will talk to them about what they want to do. This can include filing a report or informing secondary victims or witnesses about how to be supportive of survivors and provide resources for them.

Allen said there are no walk-ins at ACCESS because there is a shelter component, but people can visit the organization’s website and call or email ACCESS. Students can also visit the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center on campus.

Allen said that even though developing a close relationship is necessary for them to have with survivors, the goal is always to get them to be less dependent in the end.

The organization’s greatest goal is for the survivor to open up their circle of support and be able to reach out to someone who can provide a therapeutic service to them, Schreck said.

“The root of our training is really to understand trauma and understand what it does to any individual and what it does to their brain,” Schreck said.

She also said the organization’s job is to help survivors make sense of what happened to them instead of them trying to make sense of it. However that process comes about is OK.

As far as measuring how ACCESS’s services have helped survivors, Schreck said the organization surveys the survivors to assess their self-blame or if they’ve increased ability to cope since working with ACCESS members. However, it is hard to obtain full knowledge of gains and improvements made by survivors since the survivors have all of the control and can come and go to the program as they please.

Allen said ACCESS partners with the ISU Police Department to reach out to different classes on campus and resident halls about their available resources.

ACCESS also works through the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center and Student Services. The greek community has a Greeks Ending Violence Now (GEVN) group that gives presentations on campus. ACCESS advocates, including Allen, accompany the group. 

The topics discussed inform students about what sexual assault is and what contributes to it. Other topics include rape culture, alcohol, consent, bystanders and what to do when you witness something.

“Everybody has a role in preventing sexual violence – it’s so important for people to understand that it’s not just any survivor or potential survivor’s job to prevent it from happening to them,” Schreck said.

Many organizations on and around campus support ACCESS, including various fraternities and sororities that host philanthropies for the organization. ROTC will host a 5K walk in April to raise money for ACCESS, and the Vagina Warriors and Margaret Sloss Women’s Center hosts the Vagina Monologues every year, which also benefits ACCESS.