This weekend RAINN, the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, is celebrating 20 years of providing an outlet for survivors and making a difference with a special banquet in Washington DC. Singer Tori Amos, who will be in attendance, has been a long time champion of the organization, even giving a memorable concert of her’s benefitting RAINN aired on the Lifetime network in 1997. While Amos has been the name most associated with the organization, there have been a number of other known musicians ranging from R.E.M. and Sarah McLaughlin to Hootie and the Blowfish and Toad the Wet Sprocket who’ve helped raise awareness and donate their talents to RAINN. We spoke to RAINN co-founder Scott Berkowitz about how RAINN’s grown over the past 20 years and the impact music’s had on spreading the word.
What was the earliest event horizon of RAINN?
In the beginning there was the idea. Putting the organization together in early ’94 started with the identification of a need. There was no national hotline for victims. There was a service gap that existed. While there was a lot of great community service organizations, they weren’t always well known. So, the original idea was to find a way to tie together all the community organizations and create one national number that we could promote to survivors so that they could get immediate help.
Was this the first organization you attempted to put together?
Yes. I think in the original planning, my thought was that I would get this going and sit on the board for a year. It was not my intent to stay with it all this time. Originally, I didn’t know very much about the issue to be honest. Like everybody else, I had a few friends in college who were survivors, and I’d heard some things from them, but I really learned on the job and talking to survivors and others who were working in the field. The organization grew very quickly.
Was there a particular moment you realized when RAINN was really connecting with people?
There were a few moments. We were very fortunate that our first donors were Atlantic Records and Warner Music Group. Atlantic, at the time, was Tori Amos’ label. One of the ways they offered to help was to connect us with Tori and she agreed to be our first spokes person. Warner also brought on a lot of their other artists from R.E.M. to Hootie and the Blowfish. Even though we had a small budget and small staff, that launched us to a level of visibility that lead it take off and driving thousands of people to call the hotline.
Tori Amos has probably been the most associated with RAINN over the years. Do you recall how her partnership blossomed with RAINN?
Yeah, she’s great. She’s been a huge part of the organization and our accomplishments. From the very beginning, she played the spokesperson role and also really drew a lot of people to the organization. One of the stories she tells is how at every show she was playing, she was getting girls coming up to her afterwards saying “this happened to me too.” With RAINN, she had a place to send them. We were able to help people at all of her concerts and help promote the hotline that way, as well as help bring in different corporate partners and sponsors.
How did Tori Amos’ landmark 1997 Lifetime concert affect RAINN.
That was a big moment for the organization. It helped a lot more people to be aware of us. Coinciding with that, we launched a partnership with Calvin Klein and they did a number of products to benefit RAINN, so we had a retail presence and advertising presence. It helped us become a lot better known.
Another big thing early on was getting the national TV networks promoting the number and giving us PSA time. NBC was the first to do that. It’s remarkable how many calls TV mentions drive. A prime time mention, to this day, leads to a 500-600% bump in volume.
What’s the biggest difference between RAINN now and 20 years ago?
The biggest is that our mission expanded significantly. We started out really just running a telephone hotline and over time we learned a couple things. Most survivors are fairly young, so as technology became more important it became clear that was how people like to communicate, we began the first online hotline service. Most survivors of that are between 13-and-27 and it’s, for many of them, a much more preferable way to get help as it’s such a hard thing to talk about on the phone. We also realized there was a big need for public policy work, so we added a policy staff that works with Congress and the Administration to fix the criminal justice system so that more rapists are criminally prosecuted. The third case was public education. From the beginning we were trying to do some of that in promoting the hotline number, working with the networks and working with media. We decided to focus on changing the way America thinks about and reacts to the crime. We started working a lot with writers and producers in Hollywood and with reporters to make sure they had the most accurate information and statistics and how the crime works.
RAINN is available 24/7 for survivors of sexual violence through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.