ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It's quite a time to be a counselor who supports survivors of sexual harassment and assault. The #MeToo movement and the wave of allegations against high-profile men have had ripple effects for rape crisis groups across the country. NPR's Sarah McCammon has our report.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: It's been a busy couple of months at organizations like this YWCA in Norfolk, Va.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Coordinated Crisis Response - how may I assist you?
MCCAMMON: Crisis counselors have been answering calls on a 24-hour hotline that serves the Hampton Roads region in southeast Virginia. They help victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and related types of abuse find shelter, counseling and other services. Program Director Nicole Nordan says normally calls slow down around the holidays but not this year.
NICOLE NORDAN: People who were recently sexually assaulted, people just wanting to process harassment issue or people who experienced it a long time ago and maybe were triggered from the recent social media stuff.
MCCAMMON: As multiple companies and organizations including NPR have fired or suspended powerful men accused of sexual harassment, Nordan says many callers are reaching out after harassment, assault and other abuse.
NORDAN: People feel - OK, now I won't be ignored. People won't judge me; they won't say they don't believe me because others in the community are coming out and people are standing by them.
MCCAMMON: Nordan says the YWCA has had to lean more heavily on interns to help meet the demand. On the other side of the state, Bristol Crisis Center in largely rural southwestern Virginia is seeing a similar influx of hotline calls. Emilee Lawson says as high-profile cases of sexual harassment and assault dominate the news, she's also hearing from survivors dealing with their own buried trauma.
EMILEE LAWSON: And they'll ask me, you know, is it too late to get help, or is it too late to maybe get resources for counseling or something? And the answer to that is no.
MCCAMMON: Lawson says the #MeToo movement that emerged on social media in the wake of the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has made many people feel empowered to come forward. But for some, she says the barrage of news about the subject triggers painful memories.
LAWSON: That is a topic of conversation almost every week in our support group. You can't go to the grocery store and buy an apple without seeing sexual assault plastered on the front page of a magazine.
MCCAMMON: At Lutheran Community Services Northwest in Spokane, Wash., Erin Williams Hueter says it's too early to quantify the effect of the movement. But she's also noticed that the seasonal slowdown isn't happening. As a result, Williams Hueter says crisis hotline workers are also needing support.
ERIN WILLIAMS HUETER: Because some of the areas they might've turned to for recovery or self-care now feel sort of tainted by sexual violence, like the entertainment industry or the music industry. And that's been really difficult, too - to lose heart and people that we looked up to or people that were relied on for a break.
MCCAMMON: At the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN, services provided to victims were up 25 percent in November compared to last year. The demand has been so great, says President Scott Berkowitz, that RAINN has had to hire 40 new staffers for its national hotline in the past couple of months.
SCOTT BERKOWITZ: And were hiring as quickly as we can. So as far as we can tell, this isn't slowing down anytime soon.
MCCAMMON: Berkowitz says when sexual harassment and assault are in the news, the hotline often sees a spike in calls for a couple of days. But he says the #MeToo movement has opened the door to a flood of requests for help that could continue for much longer. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Norfolk, Va.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.