NCALL 20th Anniversary Blog Series
Congratulations to NCALL on a wonderful 20 years of advocacy for survivors in later life on behalf of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). Your work is appreciated and your voice is essential to the national dialogue around serving older survivors of sexual and domestic violence. My name is Karla Vierthaler, and I am the Advocacy and Resources Director at NSVRC, a project of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR). I started at PCAR as the Outreach Coordinator for Older Adults in 2003. At that time, Pennsylvania was one of the remaining five states who did not have protections for vulnerable adults between the ages of 18-59. In my role, I had the unique privilege of creating a curriculum and other resources for adult protective service staff and rape crisis advocates on how to best work with survivors of sexual violence over the age of 60.
Before we started the project, we knew that older adults who experienced sexual abuse weren’t seeking services at rape crisis centers. We also knew that—generally speaking—advocates at rape crisis centers weren’t completely comfortable working with older survivors and Area Agency on Aging Protective Service staff weren’t completely comfortable talking about sexual abuse. We had trainings across the state educating both professionals about one another—what laws were relevant, what services were offered by each agency, and the dynamics of sexual abuse in later life. In those trainings, and the ones to follow, we saw two groups of passionate helping professionals get one another. We saw more cases referred to law enforcement and prosecuted successfully. We saw more older survivor groups at our victim service programs. Sexual violence in later life became part of each professional’s ongoing education requirements, and this work continues today.
In the past 16 years, my job has evolved, but has always included training, technical assistance, and resource development around sexual abuse in later life. I’d love to say this is because I’m such a talented trainer, etc., but it is because there are very few people can address this issue. There are handful of us: the wonderful staff at NCALL, some rock star researchers (shout to Holly Ramsey-Klawsnik and Pamela Teaster), and advocates, who continue to talk about sexual violence in later life. We are a niche category in the broad arena of sexual and domestic violence, and I so appreciate NCALL for keeping our work relevant, inspiring, and part of the movement to end violence.