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Rape Crisis Center works with UNCP

By Noah Clark
Copy Editor

February 9, 2012

University theatre
Photo by Noah Clark
The Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County helps victims of sexual violence and provides sex education to the community. The Center is located at 212 N. Chestnut St. in Lumberton.
Over two decades ago, Dr. Richard Vela planted seeds of kindness in Robeson County that are now being reaped by the University.

Dr. Vela was instrumental in the founding of a rape crisis organization for Robeson County back then. Decades later, the university is still involved in combatting sexual violence.

This past November, the University received a 10 month $15,000 grant from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

The grant is being used to analyze perceptions about sexual violence on campus and in the community, so that the Counseling and Testing Center can build a good sexual violence prevention program to promote education and awareness, said Lauren Rodefeld, a counselor at the testing center.

Erin Scott, a graduate assistant, was hired as the project director. Those working on the grant will look into factors such as what programs already exist, what barriers exist to students in seeking help and if there are any specific groups that need to be focused upon, Rodefeld said.

The Counseling Center works closely with local groups, such as The Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County.

According to Margaret Crites, the executive director of the Robeson center, one of the factors in the University receiving the grant was its close relationship with the center, a place that Dr. Vela was instrumental in founding.

In 1985 Dr. Vela, an English professor at UNCP who at the time was the Director of Advisement and Retention, met with a female student who had not been at the University for a while, to see if she needed help getting back on track with her studies. After three hours in Dr. Vela's office, she told him that she had been sexually abused.

Moved with compassion Dr. Vela referred the student to The Rape Crisis Volunteers of Cumberland County, located in Fayetteville.

Immediately afterwards Dr. Vela received training in Fayetteville becoming a rape crisis counselor, and from 1985-1990 he served on and off as a volunteer and did informational talks.

Dr. Vela looked into if there was any place in Robeson County where victims of sexual abuse could go for help but found that there was not much available.

The center in Fayetteville helped a lot of people from Robeson County and in 1990 billed the county for funds to help with the influx of people.

In response, Robeson County commissioners contacted Dr. Vela about establishing a Robeson County Rape Crisis Organization. Along with Bill Smith, of the Board of Health among others, and money raised by the United Way, a group was formed that eventually created the center itself said Dr. Vela.

"It was to fill a particular need," Dr. Vela said.

Margaret Crites has been working with the center since it opened its doors on Jan. 3, 1991. Over the years, she has worked with the school to spread awareness about sexual violence.

According to Crites, over the last five to 10 years especially, the University has increased the number of speakers and videos relating to the subject.

While large schools, such as The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, have bigger budgets to address the issue of sexual violence, Crites has high hopes for what UNCP can accomplish.

"I would love for Pembroke to be an example of what a smaller campus can do to be aware and proactive against sexual violence," Crites said.

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