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Two weeks ago I attended a RAINN fund raiser in Washington DC hosted by Christina Ricci and well attended by a number of members of Congress and Senators who support the mission and efforts of RAINN.  Aside from providing the only national 24-hr. sexual assault hotline, RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, has made some major breakthroughs in public policy by taking crucial legal issues regarding sexual assault to the next level.  Last Thursday I talked with Scott Berkowitz, founder and CEO of RAINN, about some of the amazing changes RAINN has been fostering.

Love and Water
– Hi Scott!

Scott Berkowitz– How’re you doing?

L&W– Doing great- thanks so much for talking with me today.

SB– You bet.

L&W– So I thought I would just jump right in…

SB– Let’s go for it.

L&W– What prompted you to start RAINN?

SB– I had a friend who worked for a local crisis center and she was always talking about the big gap in services for victims and the need for a national hotline.  It seemed like an important cause, and I thought I could put my business and political experience to good use.  So I decided to get it going, and once I was involved and heard from so many people, what a difference it made in their lives, I was really motivated to keep helping.

L&W– And what you had been doing before you started RAINN?

SB– I had been running a small management consulting firm.

L&W– What would you say the main driving force is behind RAINN at this point?

SB– We’ve made a lot of progress but there’s still a sexual assault every two minutes in the United States, and 15 out of 16 rapists will not spend a single day in prison- not one day- paying for their crime.  And we’ve gotta fix that.  That keeps us going.

L&W– What gives you the most satisfaction in your job?

SB– I’d say working with such great colleagues and the several thousand volunteers who help each year.  I’m just a tiny piece of RAINN- they’re the ones who do the hard work and I feel really lucky to work with such good people.

L&W– How much does it cost to help one person through the crisis hotline?

SB– It costs about $25.00 if you add it all up and every service we provide is free to victims, so we rely on the thousands of individual donors to help keep the telephone hotline and online hotline going.

L&W– Aside from the telephone hotlline what other services does RAINN provide to sexual assault victims?

SB– Well we actually run two hotlines; by telephone at 800-656-HOPE and online at online.rainn.org.  And both provide free confidential help 24 hours a day.  In addition to the hotlines we also educate the public- we work a lot with the media and are active on over 1400 college campuses, and we do work in public policy.  I’ll give you an example: we worked for several years to pass a bill that helped local police catch more rapists using DNA.  It sounds hard to believe, but the DNA evidence from 250,000 rape cases was collected from victims but never sent to the DNA lab for analysis.  And that meant that the rapists from these 250,000 cases were all free to attack more victims.  So we worked hard with Congress to fix that problem.

L&W– How many crisis hotline volunteers do you have at the moment for both the telephone and online hotlines?

SB– We have about 1,000 volunteers involved in the online hotline.  We also partner with around 1,100 local crisis centers to operate the telephone hotline.  And so there are another 10,000-plus volunteers involved in staffing the local  hotline.  And then we have about 6,000 volunteers who help RAINN implement our college education program every year.

L&W– What is one of the most moving moments you’ve had so far working with RAINN?

SB– The call I got from the mother of a young girl who had read about RAINN in a magazine- her daughter had never told a soul that her step father had been raping her almost every night.  But after reading about RAINN her daughter used the online hotline and that helped give her the courage to tell her mom, and then her mom helped her tell the police and now the step father is locked up.  And the daughter is recovering well.  So being able to see such tangible results…

L&W– You have a lot of female celebrities who get behind and support RAINN.  What do you think moves them to do so?

SB– I think this is an issue that affects almost every family.  One out of every six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and so it’s an issue that people immediately understand because they inevitable have friends or family who this has happened to, or it has happened to them at some point.  So I think people are natually drawn to help- I mean who wouldn’t want to help sexually assaulted victims or put more prisoners in prison?

– I know as a RAINNMaker I was involved with your Facebook page, which helped me tremendously raise awareness to many of my personal contacts.  So I’m curious as to how effective social media as a whole has been for you.

SB– It’s very important- Facebook, MySpace Twitter- all those sites are very important outreach tools for RAINN.  Aside from Public Service ads that we run on television, more people hear about RAINN and the hotline through Facebook and Google than any other source.  We also just held Washinton’s first pay-per-tweet fundraiser.  For $100.00 you got to read Ana Marie Cox’s live reports from our fundraising event in DC.

L&W– What do you think about the concept of Love and Water International’s online community raising awareness and money for charities one drop at a time?

SB– I think it’s terrific.  The average donor to RAINN gives about $35.00. So we rely on individual contributions.  And this has been such a difficult year for fundraising- not just RAINN but so many non-profit organizations have been hurt.  And so having a new source of support like Love and Water means a lot to us and will help a great deal as we try and keep the hotlines running so we can serve every victim.

L&W– Is there anything else you’d like the members of Love and Water International’s community to know about RAINN, or the power of giving a little to charities in general?

SB– Get involved- there are so many ways you can help, such as joining our Facebook page, and to volunteer just a couple of hours of your time can help educate your community and make a huge difference.  A little really does go a long way.

L&W– Keeping it simple.

SB– Exactly.

L&W– You don’t have to invest an inordinate amount of time or money to make a huge difference.

SB– That’s right, there are so many different ways to volunteer- you’re not making a lifetime commitment, just a few hours, and you’re always welcome to come back for more.  And every kind of donation helps as well- no matter the amount.

L&W– That’s what we think too.  Thank you so much for talking with us today Scott.  We really appreciate it.

SB– Thank YOU so much for choosing RAINN and for giving back- we really are happy to be a part of this and we really do appreciate it.  We wish you much success with Love and Water.

September 25 is RAINN Day, RAINN’s campus campaign against sexual assault. In 2008, RAINN Day reached over 1 million students nationwide. Learn how to join RAINN Day on your campus.

Be sure to post your comments- we want to hear from you…and don’t forget to follow the official RAINN Twitter page @rainn01