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Through community support, a need is met

By Valarie Schwartz, columnist

As a board member of the OCRCC, Miriam Slifkin’s words resonated as I walked into her living room and she said, “Welcome to the place where the Orange County Rape Crisis Center was formed.”

Many meetings and 36 years later, Slifkin still supports the center that she founded.
“If I had a priority list of things I’m glad exist, it would be number one on my list, after my family, of course,” she said.

Slifkin held a doctorate in botany and was raising four daughters when a series of incidents pointed the way. At the time, she was president of the Chapel Hill chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which she also founded. Despite a lot of mail that indicated a need for a rape crisis center, she encountered resistance from fellow “women libbers,” until, of all people, Billy Graham presented a motivating factor.

“Billy Graham was in South Africa when a 12-year-old girl was abducted and gang-raped,” Slifkin explained. “He was furious,” and in a hasty moment while advocating strict punishment for the brutal crime, made the statement that he thought a person found guilty of rape should be castrated. Graham suffered from the fallout and Slifkin said an item making fun of him appeared in the Chapel Hill Weekly, prompting her to write a letter asking why Graham should be laughed at and what suggestion the writer might have as punishment.

After her letter’s publication, “all hell broke loose,” Slifkin said, remembering the harassing phone calls with masked voices that she received at a time when her husband, Larry, a UNC physics professor, was traveling a lot.

Then came a series of rapes.

Over a short period of time, three elderly women, each one arriving home around dusk with arms filled with groceries while trying to get her key in the door, had a blanket thrown over her head and was raped. “Ironically, one had been a professor in New York and had moved here to be safe,” Slifkin said. “It really got me upset but I still didn’t know what to do.” Women all over town were fired up, and as she and Elaine Hilberman, a psychologist, were en route to a meeting, she learned that sexual trauma was the root of many of Hilberman’s female clients’ problems. Slifkin asked Hilberman to speak at the next NOW meeting, which received advance notice in the newspaper.

“Most of our meetings were small … at this one all the space and chairs were taken,” Slifkin said while looking around the area that had filled with close to 50 women. Slifkin passed around a clipboard asking women interested in starting a rape crisis center to sign up. “About ten people did and one volunteered to be chair because she had been attacked from behind and raped by two men.”

The following year, in 1974, the center had a phone, the support of the local police departments (though resistance had been met with one police chief telling Slifkin to “get out of my office and don’t show your face again”), and the support of the community, which remains strong.

OCRCC moved into its third location this past summer, in offices on the third floor of 1506 E. Franklin St., where natural light from towering windows, some of which, like Slifkin’s home, open into the trees, lift and energize staff, clients and board members. Hannah Adams now serves as executive director and looks forward to the center’s 22nd annual Holiday Auction at 5 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Chapel Hill Sheraton.

“I’m really excited,” Adams said. “So many people are involved in it, supporting it from the community. I look forward to meeting more people at the event who support our work.” She said that private donations and gifts support 50-percent of programs like Community Education where age-appropriate education is provided to every elementary school classroom in the Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school districts; plus survivor services utilizing many OCRCC-trained volunteers responding to a 24-hour hotline, and many other services.

Besides the auction dinner, where hundreds of exciting items will be offered in silent and live auctions, raffle tickets are available for anyone to purchase. “A Night on the Town” includes cocktails at The Crunkleton, dinner for two with wine pairings at Bonne Soiree and a night at The Franklin Hotel. Tickets are $5 each or 10 for $45. The deadline to purchase tickets ($60 each) to the auction dinner is Nov. 2.

For details see OCRCC.org or call 968-4647.

Contact Valarie Schwartz at 923-3746 or valariekays (at) mac.com .

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