Emily Parker

Emily Parker, Associate Program Director at Riverview Center

Amid shutdowns and restrictions in response to the COVID-19, the Riverview Center remains focused on serving those who’ve experience sexual assault in Benton and their 13 other counties in Iowa.

“Over the last three years our services and rural communities have increased by 227%,” Emily Parker, Associate Program Director with Riverview Center said. “We are in people’s homes, we are meeting them in safe places such as churches and coffee shops. People don’t need our services, until they need us. It’s important for any community to have access to our services.”

Parker isn’t a face living and working out of Cedar Rapids or Waterloo. She lives in Benton County and has seen a 32 percent increase in cases since the pandemic began. Whether the trauma took place yesterday or 20 years ago, Parker and advocates like her are available to help.

“We once got a call from law enforcement at 2:30 in the morning to ask an advocate to arrive on scene,” Parker said. “We arrive on scene and support that survivor through their experience. There’s never been a limitation on us advocates before, because we are a mobile service. That hasn’t changed.”

Riverview Center advocates off free counseling services and be “a supportive ear” through whatever path the victim may choose. According to Parker, some victims may seek justice for their perpetrator’s actions. Others seemingly wish to move on. Parker and advocates may simply be going out grocery shopping with the victim for their first time since the assault.

“I think of a survivor who hasn’t left their house in three months due to fear,” Parker said. “We’ll go along and do that for them. We understand we might be the only person they feel that comfortable with at the moment.”

Benton County is among 14 counties served by Riverview Center and the county Board of Supervisors includes funds to be given to the center each year. This year, however, Benton County Sheriff Ron Tippett and Vinton Police Chief Ted Paxton introduced joining a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) agreement with Clayton, Delaware and Jone. to create a “sense of unity” how these counties would address sexual assault cases and share resources. The SART agreement may not replace the current request for Riverview Center.

“I think the big issue right now with Benton County is there is a belief we no longer serve rural counties and rural towns, which is not true at all,” Jedd Spidell, Director of Development and Public Relations for Riverview Center said. “A former employee has created some misconceptions we hope to address. A huge portion of the survivors that we work with are within lower income communities. We’ve received an increased amount of confidential calls from Benton and Buchanan counties lately. We want to continue serving all these different communities.”

Riverview Center relies on grants and other sources to maintain services, but does not rely on a county’s contribution to continue services. According to Spidell, the number one goal at the end of the day is “serving survivors and really being there for anything that they might need”

“That may include helping them make a decision as to what they want to do after a terrible situation has occurred to them,” Spidell said. “Some may wish to take legal action, some not. While we respect law enforcement and the work they do, we advocate for survivors when they choose not to file a report. We do butt heads at times, but we continue to work with them to help advocate for these survivors, whether law enforcement accepts their decisions or not. We’re not stopping anytime soon.”

Spidell noted the funding is “not the primary goal”, but instead are focused on avoiding situations where they are not able to help advocate for victims. Riverview Center plans to continue working with the Benton County Board of Supervisors and will continue their services.

“I want people to know it’s never too late to come forward for help,” Parker said. “It’s rewarding to be impactful in my own community. We make things happen for survivors. Creating a healing equilibrium is such an important part of what we do.”

Anyone wishing to contact Riverview Center can call their hotline toll-free at 888-557-0310.

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