A resource center for survivors of sexual assault — the first of its kind in Isla Vista and the product of a collaboration between Standing Together To End Sexual Assault and the Isla Vista Community Services District — opened officially on Thursday with a grand opening that saw several prominent I.V. officials attend. 

UCSB did not end up opening a Survivor Resource Center, but I.V. CSD (pictured above at a meeting) agreed to do so in January of this year. Leonard Paulasa / Daily Nexus

The Survivor Resource Center, located in the center of Isla Vista, provides a location where survivors of sexual assault can go to receive counseling, connections to medical, legal or police services and other services Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA) generally  provides such as confidential counseling. For privacy, individuals can only receive the exact address of the center by calling (805) 564-3696.

The center’s beginnings can be traced back to May 2017, when over 100 students engaged in a nine-hour sit-in at Chancellor Henry T. Yang’s office calling for the university to accept 12 demands meant to reform how the school addresses sexual violence. The first of those demands directed UC Santa Barbara to open a resource center for survivors of sexual assault. UCSB did not end up opening a center, but Isla Vista Community Services District (I.V. CSD) agreed to do so in January of this year after it was approached by Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA).

“Community members wanted one place where they knew that they could send people or come on a regular basis as needed,” Elsa Granados, executive director of STESA, said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon; we have a counselor available.”

The center strives to serve the entire I.V. community, not just students, according to Granados.

“Often people think that when there are sexual assaults in Isla Vista, [they think] they only [happen to] UCSB students,” said Granados. “UCSB students do experience sexual assault, but there’s a greater community here in Isla Vista that experiences sexual assault. Low income families, monolingual spanish speakers.”

Before the center, STESA, which is based in Santa Barbara city but operates throughout the county, would send advocates wherever a survivor in need was. The new location offers a fixed space that survivors can walk into, rather than making a call, Granados said.

STESA will pay exactly one dollar in rent a year to the Isla Vista Community Services District (I.V. CSD), which is allowing them to use space in a building owned by Santa Barbara County that was previously used for storage and as an office for former Supervisor Doreen Farr before that. 

The I.V. CSD spent roughly $5,000 in the lead-up to the center’s opening, buying furniture and renovating the space, according to Jonathan Abboud, general manager of the I.V. CSD. The money came from the user utility tax granted by Measure R, which the I.V. CSD didn’t have when they began working with STESA to provide the new center, Abboud added.

“Our big contribution was acquiring the space and designating it for this purpose, and funding the upgrades needed to get it to be the nice relaxing space it is now,” Abboud said.

The center provides a variety of resources for sexual assault survivors, but STESA’s most commonly used service is a 24-hour hotline that survivors can use to call and connect with an advocate. Other resources include counseling, assistance with filing official reports or direction to medical services.

The center intentionally does not maintain a police presence, as some survivors may feel uncomfortable around police officers, according to Granados. Reporting to the police is an option STESA presents to survivors of sexual assault but does not pressure them to follow that course of action, Granados added.

“Someone might say ‘I don’t want to report to law enforcement, but I am worried about what happened to my body and I’m worried that I might have internal injuries’ and so then we can refer them to a medical clinic,” Granados said.

There were 29 reported rapes to UCSB Police in 2018, according to the 2019 Clery Act crime report. These numbers do not include reports submitted to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office (SBSO), which also patrols I.V. However, in 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report which found that 80% of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported.

The police often refer survivors to STESA, and according to University of California Police Department Detective Alexis Dougherty, the new center will provide a location where police can meet with survivors in a more comfortable location.

“This center is fantastic because it will allow us to see different survivors in this community,” Dougherty said. “It’s not just UCSB students in Isla Vista; we’ll be able to work with survivors in this space.”