Sexual assault: Uncomfortable topic and growing concern

By Tammy Keith Published November 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Kate Vincent of Conway moved to Arkansas from Michigan almost three years ago and said she enjoys the people and the weather. She is director of Sexual Assault Crisis Response of Central Arkansas, a division of the Women’s Shelter of Central Arkansas in Conway.

Kate Vincent of Conway spent years in the business world, but two earlier experiences fueled her passion to help victims of sexual assault.

Vincent, 52, is director of Sexual Assault Crisis Response of Central Arkansas, part of the Women’s Shelter of Central Arkansas.

New to Arkansas, she was born in Ohio and grew up in Michigan.

“Growing up, I had a little gal I went to school with who — we were on the track team together — she was kidnapped, raped and killed,” Vincent said.

“It took probably five or six years to finally figure out who it was that killed her. It was an acquaintance of the family.

“I had another friend who, there was some remodeling going on next door, and one of the construction workers came over and raped her. Her brother tried to help, and the guy went to his truck and got a shotgun and killed him,” Vincent said. Her friend was beaten, but she survived.

Those harrowing events were memories as Vincent attended Davenport University, majored in business, then worked 25 years for Amway, mostly in sales.

In many ways, it was a dream job.

“Oh, I am so thankful and grateful to the [Amway] family. I hosted trips on dude ranches; I traveled to the Caribbean; I’ve been all over with them. When you go, it’s first class. I’ve traveled on corporate jets. It was an amazing, amazing experience,” she said.

She and her husband have twin sons, and when they went to college in Michigan, she started volunteering.

“I am a firm believer in, once you get your kids raised, you have a responsibility to give back,” Vincent said. “One way or another, I feel that we have a responsibility to do something for the community.”

She became a volunteer in 2001 for the YWCA sexual-assault program in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Her husband, Barry, was transferred to Arkansas with his job almost three years ago. He is a senior field-service engineer for diagnostic equipment in hospitals throughout the state.

“We were going to build a house on Greers Ferry Lake, and once he started driving, he was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, it takes forever just to get to the main road.’”

They moved to Conway, and she started volunteering with the Women’s Shelter of Central Arkansas’ sexual-assault program.

“When we moved here, I thought, I’ve been doing this for so many years that it would be sad to let all that training and experience not continue,” she said.

The former sexual-assault coordinator moved, and Vincent was hired in July 2011 after volunteering for a couple of months. She trains advocates and works on fundraisers, as well as gives presentations to schools and organizations and runs sexual assault support groups from 8-9 a.m. each Wednesday and domestic violence support groups from 9-10 a.m.

Vincent said that to date, she has not had any men come forward for help.

Beth Goodrich, executive director of the Women’s Shelter of Central Arkansas, said Vincent is perfect for the job.

Goodrich said the former sexual-assault program director took notice of Vincent, too.

“It’s kind of funny. The girl who preceded her, when she knew she was leaving, said, ‘I really wish we could have Kate; I think she would be good at it,’” Goodrich said.

“Kate’s been really fantastic with the program. It has grown a lot in the time that she has been here. She’s kind of expanded the reach of the program; she gets out there. She does a good job creating awareness about the program in the community, and she’s involved with the colleges, which is an important area for sexual assault.”

Vincent said awareness is a big part of her job.

“The thing about rape, it’s a very uncomfortable topic,” Vincent said. “I learned it real quick. [People] look at it different than domestic violence just because it’s personal. A lot of times, a victim of sexual assault will think they have done something wrong for it to happen.

“The bottom line, the message I always try to get out — if somebody tells you this has happened to them, believe them. Always, always, always believe them. It’s such a personal thing; people don’t make this up. They just don’t.”

When a woman drops a court case, people often think it’s because she made it up, Vincent said. “Where I go is, she got tired.

“A survivor has to decide; they have to determine, ‘What is best for me? Can I mentally continue on?’ because I’ll tell you, the system can tear you apart, too.

“I have had clients ask me if I would go to court with them, and I do,” Vincent said. “If it will help them, I pretty much do what helps them. I will go with them to the prosecuting attorney; I will go with them to the police department. I want to help them in any way that I can. I do, though, really strongly recommend counseling, big time.”

Vincent said so many cases of sexual assault go unreported that statistics are hard to come by.

“People aren’t quick to jump up and say, ‘I was raped’ because of the fear that people won’t believe them, or they’re going to be judged. ‘Why were you walking down the street alone?’ You should be able to walk down the street without that happening. Or, what they were wearing does not give someone the right to do something,” she said.

Vincent has statistics she quotes, although she said the reality is that it’s worse.

“Someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes, nationally. One out of seven women will be raped by their husbands,” she said.

“The numbers are so skewed. It’s so much worse that people can even imagine,” she said.

“I’ll go to doctor’s offices, and the receptionist will lean in and say, ‘I was sexually assaulted.’”

Fifteen percent of sexual-assault and rape victims are under 12 years old, Vincent said.

And in a national 2010 survey of high-school-youth risk behavior in rural areas, 10.5 percent of girls and 4.5 percent of boys said they were forced to have sex.

Arkansas was No. 1 in that survey, Vincent said.

“It’s all around us; that’s the thing,” she said. “When I go and I speak in colleges, everybody knows someone who has had either domestic violence, or who has been raped. Everybody knows. It’s uncomfortable because it’s sex. Rape is not sex; it’s about control. That’s what it’s about.”

Vincent said the Conway program “is a crisis center, not a counseling center.” Advocates respond to phone calls 24 hours a day.

“This is interesting — back in Michigan, we seemed to get lots of calls in the middle of the night,” she said.

In Arkansas, land of Southern manners, “most people wait till business hours, even though I say you can call anytime, 24-7. They don’t want to wake people up.

“It makes me so sad. You know what? These advocates are well-trained. This is why they do it, to be there for you.”

Vincent said talking about sexual abuse helps victims heal.

“Sweeping it under the rug — that’s not going to take care of it. You have to talk about it to someone. Because it will come back,” she said.

“You’re walking by a bakery, and you might smell something that triggers what we call flashbacks.

“The survivor carries it with them the rest of their lives. The way we treat them in the first few minutes is what they remember,” Vincent said.

“They remember how poorly they were treated, or they remember, ‘This person saved me that night; they supported me and believed me.’”

Vincent said women or men who want to talk about abuse can call the crisis hotline at (866) 358-2265 — and someone will listen.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Kate Vincent, director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Response at the Women’s Shelter of Central Arkansas, suggested the following ways to help prevent a sexual assault.

She said these are tips that she primarily gives to college-age students.

  1. Only drink from unopened containers or drinks that you have poured.

  2. Never drink from punch bowls.

  3. Don’t leave your drink unattended.

  4. Listen to your gut feelings. If you feel threatened in a situation, leave.

  5. Be assertive and direct in what you want in a relationship, or on a date. Don’t let somebody talk you into doing anything you don’t want to do.

  6. Let that person know you are expected home at a certain time, that you aren’t planning to spend the night.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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