Allyson Ugolini and Dr. Shirley Cox, Social Work
This project’s goal was to compare and contrast two culturally diverse, American and Italian, rape recovery centers and the social work systems that run them. Research findings will benefit and enlighten both societies on each other’s methods and ways of operation, allowing them to take the positives and the negatives of their respective systems and learn from them.
Before the 1970’s, rape laws in the United States were preoccupied with protecting perpetrators from false accusations failing to protect the rape victim. As reforms were made, rape survivors began to be given the legal protection that they deserved when states removed biases against the survivor. This change in attitudes sparked the need for greater social support to the rape survivor populations strengthening the social work practice to these groups.
Italian law, on February 15, 1996, established rape as a legal crime against the rape survivor, meaning that a rape survivor could prosecute their perpetrator(s) in a court of law and gain protection and advocacy from the legal system. Before this date in Italian culture, rape was considered a personal, moral “sin” that a perpetrator committed, not punishable by law. After the ratification of this law, social work agencies began to be created to help serve the population of rape survivors.
The two centers compared and contrasted were the Rape Recovery Center (RRC) in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Soccorso Violenza Sessuale (SVS) in Milan, Italy. The RRC is the largest working center in Utah serving over 120,000 victims since 1974. The SVS was the first rape recovery center to open in Italy after the law was ratified in 1996 and it is the only center made serving this population in Milan.
I was a social work intern for seven months at the RRC and for five months at the SVS. My research took place in two parts: first, through readings and evaluation of the literature each center had on its respective practices and services, and second, through first-hand observations that I witnessed as an integrated member of each center’s staff.
The RRC and the SVS are unique and critical institutions within their respective societies. On first contact the client fills out an office-intake form so that a general understanding of the client and his/her needs can be evaluated and recorded. Social workers in both centers are not only trained to handle immediate, intense crisis situations, but also can function as counselors for more long-term cases. Through the heading of advocacy, both centers offer on-site, on-demand assistance and crisis intervention to rape survivors in hospitals. The RRC and the SVS offer their respective clients referral services from their community databases (hospitals, law enforcement, criminal justice systems, etc.). In reaching out to the community, both centers offer community education programs. Both centers hold staffing meetings where personnel may address issues or concerns that they may have with their clients and get feedback from their colleagues. Having worked at both centers within these two distinct and unique cultures, one thing did not change: a constant care and concern for a person in need.
Many differences were observed between the two centers. The RRC has its own building and functions as an independent social work agency while the SVS is located in the Clinica Mangiagalli, a hospital. Social workers provide more crisis intervention at SVS, secondary to medical attention, practicing more long-term counseling and less emergency-focused intervention as practiced at the RRC. Although both centers compile initial intake forms, the SVS collects more medical data since this center works within a medical system. The more emergency and the ambulatory nature of the SVS create this difference of a more medical/social institution compared to the RRC’s more social focus. The RRC also offers a 24-hour crisis hotline, run by staff and trained volunteers. The SVS only offers telephone assistance during working hours of the center (9am to 5pm).
First, this project’s data and analysis is credited to my observations and analysis thus, although I tried to be as objective as possible, human error and bias were not always avoided. Second, although I was able to communicate and research in both countries, my Italian language skills and training were limited, taking much more time and concentration than I had expected. These issues limited the depth of my research and understanding of the social work system in Italy. Third, the RRC and the SVS were found to not be 100 percent comparable. At initial contact with SVS it was understood that its functions were much like those of an American rape recovery center. Instead, I found a more medical environment than a social work environment. My research had to be adapted and become more focused on the more aesthetic differences of the two centers, than on the deeper social work methodologies of the two centers.
The RRC could consider moving their social work practice into a medical facility where they can do more emergency social work, like the SVS. The SVS could consider running a 24-hour hotline to better serve the population that has been effected by the crime of rape, much like that of the RRC. Within the social work systems found in the RRC and in the SVS, many similar and different practices were observed. It is the role of social workers to take the information that this research project has presented and use it to better serve the rape survivor population.