Domestic Violence Intervention Services in Tulsa saw a significant increase in the number of people seeking crisis services in 2017. Photo courtesy NewsOn6

Following the #MeToo movement, the YWCA in Oklahoma City got busier.

Crisis phone lines at the nonprofit’s office started ringing more, the number of survivors getting forensic exams increased and a growing number of people started coming to the organization inquiring about services.

“It has been surprisingly wonderful,” said Elizabeth Stoverink, director of sexual assault victim advocacy for YWCA-Oklahoma City.

“And I know that sounds so weird to say that, but we know within this field that sexual assault is happening and victims now have a platform where they feel safe to come forward to speak out about these things.”

The ripple effects of the #MeToo movement are being felt across the state. Advocates say the movement has spurred survivors who stayed quiet for years to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment for the first time.

In October 2017, actress Alyssa Milano sent out a tweet that started an international movement.

“If you’ve been sexually harassed of assault write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” she said.

Within four days more than 1.3 million tweets and 13 million Facebook posts were shared with the hashtag #MeToo.

Calls to national crisis lines have come in at record numbers. In November, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), saw a 26 percent increase in hotline traffic.

“So it’s a very powerful time for us as advocates and with our crisis intervention to be the first person that someone has told, and it’s been 30 years,” Stoverink said. “So it’s overwhelming, but in a positive way.”

Rape is considered a vastly underreported crime. State and national experts agree only 20 to 30 percent of rape survivors report their assaults to law enforcement.

Karla Docter, senior officer of sexual violence prevention and response at YWCA-Oklahoma City, said the movement has empowered survivors, broken down rape myths and has made the organization’s resources more visible.

“It’s starting conversations that are very loudly breaking down rape myths, which then also breaks down barriers for people to feel safe and comfortable to come forward and say, ‘Well people are starting to believe now,'” Docter said.

Donna Mathews, chief operating officer at Domestic Violence Interventions Services in Tulsa, said the nonprofit has seen a significant increase in demand for sexual assault and domestic violence resources.

The number of people receiving DVIS’s sexual assault crisis services grew by 70 percent in 2017 as compared to the previous year, Mathews said. The demand for domestic violence crisis services increased by 73 percent.

“When you talk about the Me Too movement and just the press that it gets, I think survivors are also probably thinking, ‘People are believing people more now,’” Mathews said.

“They (Survivors) don’t have to report it to law enforcement. They don’t have to be wanting a criminal investigation. They can just want to come here to have some healing for themselves.”

If you need support:

Domestic Violence Intervention Services 24-hour crisis and information line: 918-743-5763

YWCA 24-hour domestic violence hotline: 405-917-9922

YWCA 24-hour sexual assault hotline: 405-943-7273

YWCA 24-hour state safeline: 800-522-7233

Related reading:

A Frontier Investigation — Shadow Land