ANALYSIS <b> Organization Case Study:</b> TAASA humanizes efforts by putting face on assault

With a campaign featuring real survivors of rape, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault was able to raise political support for tougher laws and boost public awareness. The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) formed 22 years ago as an advocacy and training organization to help rape victims. But a fresh infusion of funds and help from lots of friends let TAASA launch a nationally emulated PSA campaign last year.

With a campaign featuring real survivors of rape, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault was able to raise political support for tougher laws and boost public awareness. The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) formed 22 years ago as an advocacy and training organization to help rape victims. But a fresh infusion of funds and help from lots of friends let TAASA launch a nationally emulated PSA campaign last year.

Founded by a group of activists, the association promotes awareness of sexual-assault issues and provides information and training for rape-crisis workers, law enforcement officials, community groups, and schools. The organization's mission expanded into public awareness and education in January 2001, when it hired Chris Lippincott with funds it received for a public affairs director. Several months later, the nonprofit secured a $2 million, two-year grant from the Texas attorney general's office to mount its first statewide public awareness campaign. TAASA presently has an Austin staff of 14 full-time employees and three interns. It serves 80 membership organizations across the state. Lippincott's duties include keeping the groups up to date on legal issues and breaking news. "Of the 80, I think there are three that have a PR person," Lippincott says. "A lot of these programs rely on [intern] Karen [Rugaard] and me very heavily to respond to media requests with statistics and perspectives." Lippincott feels right at home with the lobbying part of his job. He worked for the Democratic Party in Virginia before joining the association. During the 2002 statewide elections, TAASA invited the Democratic and Republican nominees for state attorney general to its conference in San Antonio. "We asked them to outline what they would do as attorney general to reduce the incidence of sexual assault and to assist sexual assault survivors," Lippincott says. One of TAASA's legislative goals is to convince lawmakers that, while required monitoring for convicted sex offenders helps, more needs to be done to protect the public against sexual predators. "Only one in five sexual assaults is ever reported," Lippincott explains. "Only a small portion of those folks end up going to jail." TAASA's most important government-relations issue, however, is funding for itself and its members' programs. Much of the money for sexual-assault prevention and counseling in Texas comes from the attorney general's crime victims' compensation fund and through the federal Violence Against Women Act. Members also pay dues, and the group has begun placing more emphasis on seeking charitable contributions from foundations, businesses, and other private donors. In November, TAASA hired Texas first lady Anita Perry as an outside consultant for outreach and development. Years ago, Perry became the first nurse trained to work with sexual-assault victims in rural Haskell County. "She's been exposed to the survivors of sexual violence since she was very young," Lippincott explains. "We make a point of not trading on her status as a semi-public official. We feel that the real value she brings to our office is her experience as a medical professional." Crafting a relevant campaign Because raising awareness of victims' service programs and eliminating the taboo against discussing rape remain TAASA's top priorities, its grant-funded campaign focused on both. Lippincott knew TAASA would have to assess perceptions about sexual assault before it could change them. So the organization mounted a competitive agency search and hired Weber Shandwick and KRC Research to collect data and help design the campaign. "The single most salient statistic that came out of our polling was that more than half of all Texans weren't aware that there was a sexual-assault program that serves their community," Lippincott says. The survey also uncovered widespread confusion about what constitutes sexual assault. WS' Texas staff became passionate about the account, says southwest president Ken Luce. "Yes, we can get people to buy a product, but this was different for everyone," Luce says, noting that many employees contributed extra hours to the campaign. Lynn Blanco, a PR veteran and executive director of the San Antonio Rape Crisis Center, says the inclusion of members in the campaigns' development was one key to its success. Blanco served on work groups that helped formulate the initiative. WS enlisted pro bono help from its sister ad agency, Temerlin McClain, which along with TAASA staff and member rape-crisis centers began looking for rape victims willing to tell their stories in the "Speak Up, Speak Out" campaign. "It's a difficult thing to explain to people that we want to use your name and face and the story of one of the worst things that ever happened to you, and we'd like to put that on TV and radio in 17 media markets across the state," Lippincott says. "But we found six women who were very willing to participate in this who I think knew what they had gotten themselves into." The spots, which ran as paid ads and free PSAs during the spring and fall of 2003, featured women like school teachers Eunice Ruiz, who was sexually assaulted by a relative as a child in Mexico, and Bridget Kelly, the victim of a less common but often more violent assault by a stranger. TAASA also updated its website, provided media training to member agencies, conducted an 11-city media tour, and arranged speaking engagements at college campuses. Seeing the results statewide As a result of the efforts, rape crisis centers reported three times as many hotline calls in April 2003 as in April 2002 and twice as many for August. Call volume is still growing this year at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, one of the state's busiest public healthcare facilities, says victim-services intervention manager Sharon Walker. She attributes the rise to increased awareness of rape-counseling services instead of a spike in the number of sexual assaults. The sensational Kobe Bryant case also brought national media attention to the group's rape-survivor spokespeople. TAASA helped set up a network TV interview with Kelly, and it used the Bryant case to educate people about rape shield laws. Such statutes exclude evidence about accusers' sexual history from being used in court. Annette Burrhus-Clay, TAASA's executive director, also signed an open letter to Texas merchants in October urging them not to sell an issue of the Globe that featured pictures of Bryant's accuser, along with her name and comments about her lifestyle. Blanco feels "Speak Up, Speak Out" empowered rape-crisis groups to control the message. "We weren't talking about it from a crime standpoint, but we were talking about it from the prevention and awareness side," she says. "We've worked hard to expand the reporter base beyond police-beat reporters and courthouse reporters," Lippincott adds. "It's a health issue, it's an education issue, and it's an issue that we have worked hard to bring to the forefront of Texas politics." Although its grant money is now gone, TAASA is using a more modest budget to run some radio spots in April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Also, the Lifetime cable network adapted the spots for national use in its own PSA program. WS continues to work for TAASA on a volunteer basis and through a few small paying projects. "Everybody who's been involved in it and had the pleasure of working with one of the survivors has just come away with the sense that they want to do more, so we're keeping that available for everybody," Luce says. PR contacts Executive director Annette Burrhus-Clay Public affairs director Chris Lippincott Outreach and development consultant Texas first lady Anita Perry Agency Weber Shandwick

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