Their phone number takes callers to an answering service, and if you drive out to the North Charleston address still listed on their website's "Contact" page, you'll find a dark, vacant office, with the residue of a logo still stuck to the glass like a leftover shadow. For People Against Rape, 2012 was not a good year.
Since 1974, Charleston's rape crisis organization has provided important services to sexual assault victims. Advocates arrive in emergency rooms and stay with victims through rape exams, court cases, and counseling. A 24-hour crisis hotline was (and still is) available to anyone in need.
Unfortunately, according to the Post and Courier, a former PAR employee (whose identity has not been released) submitted $60,000 to $80,000 in reimbursements to state agencies for PAR's rent and tax bills even though those bills had never been paid. When the news came out last fall, the organization lost $300,000 in grants, leaving nothing for PAR's 13 salaried staff members. They were eventually all laid off, while the offender left the state.
But thanks to its board and a determined group of volunteers, PAR persists.
"We just decided that we needed to do everything that we could to keep the organization going on a volunteer basis so that we could provide those minimal services to victims," says Dean Kilpatrick, current PAR board president and a founding member who has served on the board in some capacity for the last 39 years. By day, he's a professor at MUSC and the director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, but he devotes his free time, unpaid, to rehabbing the organization. Kilpatrick credits the continuing efforts of the board and volunteers to the survival of the organization.
"The easy thing to do would have been to say this is impossible, we can't do it, we're going to declare bankruptcy, we're going to fold our tents and go away," he adds. "For adult sexual assault victims in our area, if PAR doesn't do it, there would be nobody to do it."
As PAR digs itself out of its hole, the board has done some quick strategic planning in order to define its core mission: to help adult victims of sexual assault. Today, in the midst of a financial audit, volunteers still answer crisis phone calls and visit emergency rooms. And their roles are expanding, especially as PAR increases its emphasis on rape prevention.
While PAR wants to hire staff as soon as financially possible, it recognizes that volunteers have always been the heart and soul of the organization. "We've always had volunteers, but the number we had had kind of atrophied over time," Kilpatrick says. "Now what we really very much want to do is to make sure that we still have the volunteers and that the volunteers have a very active role and that we have volunteers doing some things that they maybe weren't doing in addition to things that they were doing." That includes working on the public awareness and education sides, including publicity, as well as providing victim services. If and when PAR receives funding, Kilpatrick says they hope to hire a smaller staff that will recruit, train, and organize the efforts of these volunteers.
This week, PAR and other area organizations will host the annual Take Back the Night event at Brittlebank Park on Thurs. April 4 at 6 p.m. This year's theme is "Shatter the Silence. Stop the Violence." Besides raising awareness for sexual assault and celebrating survivors, the event will feature food, live music, and dancing.
"It's always good to remind ourselves that we still have a pretty bad rape problem in our community," Kilpatrick says. "But we also want to remind them in a hopeful way that People Against Rape has been here for the Lowcountry since 1974. With great difficulty, we're still here."