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Sexual abuse hotlines see a surge in calls after Weinstein's overturned conviction

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Last week, Harvey Weinstein's 2020 rape conviction was overturned by a New York court. And the New York District Attorney announced yesterday that the 72-year-old will be retried for sex crimes. Critics see this justice system reversal as a step backward when it comes to sexual abuse survivors getting the justice they deserve. Scott Berkowitz is the founder and president of RAINN. That's the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. The organization serves survivors and the people who care about them. RAINN also operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Scott Berkowitz joins us now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SCOTT BERKOWITZ: Thanks, Juana.

SUMMERS: So Scott, as I mentioned, RAINN operates a national hotline that victims and survivors can call. What have things been like for the hotline since the Weinstein conviction was overturned last week?

BERKOWITZ: They've been busy. We see whenever there's a really large news story like this, something that impacts survivors - we always see an increase in the number of people reaching out to us and a whole lot of people who want to talk about the decision and talk about their disappointment and sometimes anger about the decision being thrown out.

SUMMERS: What do you think it is specifically about moments like this, whether it's this case or other high-profile cases of sexual abuse that might be in the news, that leads to that kind of uptick?

BERKOWITZ: You know, I think that most survivors do their best to live their lives and to go through their day to day. But sometimes, something jumps into the frame that is just either really good or really infuriating. And I think that the Harvey Weinstein case has been so visible. It's something, you know, millions of Americans have followed. It really makes people stop, pay attention and, for survivors, prompts them to start reflecting on their own experience and the challenges that they faced.

SUMMERS: Obviously, a part of the work that the people who staff those victim services programs do is confidentiality, but I'm wondering, just generally speaking, when people are calling in or reaching out online, can you give us a sense of the type of things that you're hearing?

BERKOWITZ: Yeah. It hits everyone a little differently. One of the interesting things about this case in particular is there was so much attention on it. The survivors really bravely stepped up and testified in court. They did everything right. And to see it all get thrown out on effectively a loophole is frustrating to people. And it certainly makes some question whether it's worth their effort to go through the challenging process of an investigation and a prosecution.

SUMMERS: How does a service like the National Sexual Assault Hotline help victims and survivors deal with this kind of trauma that they're dealing with right now?

BERKOWITZ: Our staff are really trained to help tailor the session to the survivors' needs. Sometimes we hear from survivors calling just minutes or hours after an assault. They more often than not have a lot of very practical questions about what sort of medical care they should get? What are the risks that they should be tested for? What to expect if they call 911 and report - but we also get a lot of calls from survivors calling, you know, months or years after the assault. I mean, in those cases, they tend to be looking much more for emotional support.

SUMMERS: And Scott, I'll just ask you briefly, if someone who's listening to this conversation is in need of support, what's the best way for them to reach out?

BERKOWITZ: You can get help from the National Sexual Assault Hotline both by telephone at 1-800-656-HOPE, H-O-P-E, or through online chat at hotline.rainn.org, RAINN. And the National Sexual Assault Hotline operates 24/7. It's confidential, and the services are always free.

SUMMERS: That's RAINN founder and president Scott Berkowitz. Scott, thank you for joining us.

BERKOWITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.

Jordan-Marie Smith
Jordan-Marie Smith is a producer with NPR's All Things Considered.
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.