Moscow Women Get First Rape Crisis Hotline

The phone did not ring during their first two days in operation, but the organizers of Moscow's first rape crisis hotline are hoping that the city's many rape victims will soon learn that there is now somewhere to call for help.

With a single telephone line in a small room on the edge of Moscow, the Moscow Sexual Assault Recovery Center opened its 12-hour-a-day rape crisis hotline on Monday. From 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. on weekdays, specially trained counselors are on hand to offer a sympathetic ear to women who have been the victims of sexual abuse.

The opening of the center -- whose name reflects its future plans to provide more legal assistance, support groups and shelter than its current modest status makes possible -- represents a significant step toward removing taboo status from discussing sexual assault, which has largely been a hidden problem in Russia.

"It's a very secret crime, and a lot of women prefer not to seek help from law enforcement," said Natasha Gaidarenko, a psychologist who is the executive director of the center.

Next to assisting victims, the primary goal of the center, which was organized by Russian and American women, is to change attitudes of law enforcement and of society at large, toward sexual abuse.

Still pervasive, Gaidarenko said, are attitudes that women victims are at fault, that only "bad" girls and women get raped and that the only children who are sexually abused are the children of neglectful parents.

The police department does not have a specially designated sex crimes department, which in other countries would often be staffed by female officers. And women who report such crimes to the police are often treated insensitively and skeptically, Gaidarenko said.

The number of reported rapes and attempted rapes in Russia rose from 10,902 in 1987 to 14,440 in 1993, according to Interior Ministry statistics.

But gauging the actual number of rapes in Russia is complicated because most rapes are not reported. While the police say that one in every four rapes is reported, members of the Sexual Assault Recovery Center believe that figure is actually much lower.

The hotline number is 141-7226.