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The Emergence of a Local Anti-Rape Movement
In April of 1974, a handful of housewives and female graduate students organized a 24-hour rape crisis hotline in the broom closet of a local Episcopalian church and called it the Rape Information and Counseling Service. Jacquelyn Resnick, a University of Florida counselor, trained paraprofessionals on how to counsel women in crisis.
At night, volunteers transfered the lines to their homes where they answered calls throughout the night on rotating shifts. By answering urgent calls, "accompan[ying] rape victims to the hospital, the police station, court, and provid[ing] getaways for women to escape town for the day or weekend" (WomaNews April 1976), RICS paraprofessionals weaved the beginnings of an expansive web of support for area women.
After receiving hundreds of calls from women in distress, volunteers for the Rape Information and Counseling Service realized women needed more than moral support through a telephone wire, they needed a safe living residence and a number of other services. As a result, RICS changed its name to The Sexual and Physical Abuse Resource Center (SPARC) and sought to serve spousal abuse victims in addition to rape victims as the community, along with the nation, uncovered domestic violence as a rampant reality. But inviting victims into volunteers' homes was dangerous. Sharon Bauer articulated this concern:
"We feel the community should provide this service and that it shouldn't be necessary for us to use our homes for emergency shelter. This is a risky situation since an angry spouse might show up at our doors" (WomaNews Dec. 1976). According to one account, Bauer demanded the county donate an unused city building in Kanapaha to SPARC in order to provide safer services for women. In October of 1977, after the county met Bauer's request, RICS confidently announced the extension of its services to battered women (WomaNews Oct. 1977). Bauer and her husband staffed the house and cared for victims first-hand.(Addendum 1)
In addition to providing shelter, SPARC often networked with local police officials, particularly with Martha Varnes, an investigator at the UF Police Department who consoled rape victims immediately after the assaults. SPARC also collaborated with others in establishing the Rape Treatment Center at Shands Hospital, which ensured victims received gynecological exams and information about the importance of venereal disease and pregnancy tests after the assault rather than only receiving a general physical at the Alachua General Hospital (WomaNews May 1977).
Later that same year, Sallie Harrison and other paraprofessionals secured a Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) grant for SPARC, which provided for a private coordinator, counseling specialist, and project coordinator who would also act as a media liason.
In May of 1977, SPARC would also help bring a rape victim advocate program to the State Attorney's Office and receive $12,000 per year for training and supervising volunteers out of the $40,000 state grant. Other rape services objected to SPARC's allotment, but funding guidelines specified recognition be given to women's groups that first brought forth the issue of rape to the public consciousness (WomaNews May 1977).
In 1980, SPARC began receiving additional funding from new legislation mandating a portion of the marriage license fee go to supporting domestic abuse programs. This funding sustained SPARC while President Ronald Reagan allowed the CETA program to expire during the first year of his presidency.
As the domestic abuse shelter received more money from outside sources, it also began losing its feminist base. During the mid-1980s, an exchange occurred in which feminist activists resigned from SPARC and more business-oriented professionals - men and women whose main purpose was to secure funding for SPARC and ensure the organization met state grant requirements - took their place.
While other feminist institutions closed down due to the economic and political stresses of the 1980s, SPARC continued garnering community support and improving its services. In year 2000, SPARC changed its name to Peaceful Paths and continues operating today as a domestic abuse network.