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SAPARS listens to and helps sexual abuse victims

By Nathan Tsukroff

Where do you turn for help if you are a victim of rape, child sexual abuse or other forms of sexual violence?

In Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, you can get help from Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

Advocates from SAPARS will help victims by traveling with them to a hospital for treatment, helping them to decide if they want to report the sexual assault or abuse to police, help them make the police report, and refer them to professionals in the community.

Most importantly, SAPARS advocates will “listen, listen, listen, any time of day or night”, according to Meagan Davis, Executive Director of the group.

Victims of sexual abuse and violence in Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford counties can get help from Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services at 800-871-7741 to report their abuse or deal with issues surrounding their abuse. (Photo courtesy of SAPARS)

The group works to prevent and eliminate sexual violence and promote healing and empowerment for people of all genders and ages who are affected by rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, stalking and sexual harassment, according to their mission statement.

Victims of sexual trafficking and exploitation receive help from SAPARS with crisis intervention and ongoing support services, such as accompaniment and support during forensic medical procedures, police interviews and civil or criminal court proceedings.

Advocates from the group help assess the needs of survivors and assist with developing and implementing a comprehensive safety plan, Davis said. And advocates provide referrals to other social agencies, as appropriate, and will provide help for survivors to file for victim compensation.

“Our outreach and education programs help community members understand how to support survivors of sexual assault and abuse, how sexual violence impacts everyone in the community, and how to be part of the solution to ending sexual violence,” Davis said. “We offer presentations to professionals, service providers and any group interested in learning and helping.”

Through SAPARS’ school-based programs, students can receive on-site support. Face-to-face communication and advocacy helps young survivors cope and heal, David said.

Additionally, school-based prevention education from SAPARS works with all grade levels to help create a safer school environment. Advocates provide both classroom educational presentations to students, as well as specialized training to help teachers and administrators recognize and respond to sexual harassment, acquaintance rape, and child sexual abuse.

In support groups, victims have the chance to share their experiences, identify coping strategies, learn new information and support one another in their healing process.

The Children’s Advocacy Center of Androscoggin, Franklin & Oxford Counties is a safe, comfortable, place for a child to be interviewed about sexual or physical abuse. The CAC is a child-focused, community-oriented facility where professionals from many different disciplines meet to discuss the investigation, treatment and prosecution of child abuse cases.

From October 2019 to September 2020, SAPARS served about 450 people with around 1,500 hours of support. Services are free and confidential to anyone impacted by sexual violence or abuse. Support is provided for survivors and others, regardless of whether the impact is recent or several years ago.

Victims can get help from an advocate by contacting the SAPARS helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 800-871-7741. The caller can share as much or as little information as they would like, and can keep the call anonymous by not providing their name.

SAPARS does not provide shelter services, but collaborates with community partners to help identify safe locations for people to stay temporarily. They frequently partner with the local domestic violence agency, Safe Voices, to connect individuals to the Safe Voices shelter services.

The group is funded in part by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, United Way of Androscoggin County, United Way of Oxford County, United Way of the Tri-Valley Area, and public and private donations. 

Community members can volunteer at SAPARS, either through fundraising activities or training to be a volunteer advocate on the 24-hour helpline service.

Information about the group and the services provided can be found at  www.sapars.org  or on the Facebook page: Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, or by calling the helpline at 800-871-7741.

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