Jul 29, 2014
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On the Front Lines of Sexual Abuse

Peggy Pisano has been counseling victims of sexual abuse and child abuse for 35 years.

On the Front Lines of Sexual Abuse

After 35 years as a rape crisis and child abuse counselor, said the plight of the victims can be emotionally draining.

"The cases can touch you emotionally," says Pisano, the former executive director of the Milford Rape Crisis Center. But the center volunteers take care of each other so they can focus on helping the victims.

Pisano recalled when she first started volunteering for the program and had her own 7-month-old daughter, she encountered a 3-month-old child abuse victim and it was hard not to take it personally.

Stepping Down to Step Up

Pisano stepped down as executive director last July to focus on her other roles as Coordinator of Sexual Assault Services and head of one of 16 multidisciplinary teams in the state. was hired to take over as executive director of the Center.

In the first role, she leads the sexual abuse crisis volunteers that counsel victims throughout reporting the crime, hospital treatment and prosecution of the assailant.

The multidisciplinary team consists of volunteers who are trained as counselors for child victims of physical and sexual abuse, with the focus on minimizing the trauma to the victim and his or her family.

The Milford Rape Crisis Center’s service area includes Milford, Orange and West Haven, plus the Lower Naugatuck Valley communities of Shelton, Ansonia, Derby and Seymour. The center works closely with and Griffin Hospital and the local police departments.

Pisano, an Orange resident, is a state certified counselor advocate and a certified police instructor for sex crime training.

Troubling Trend

"I wish I’d see a time when our services aren’t necessary," she says. However, rape and abuse cases in the center’s service area seem to be on the increase.

There were 360 cases in the 2010-11 fiscal year, but if the trend continues the number for 2011-12 will top 400.

It is unclear if that means more crimes are occurring or just that more are being reported, Pisano notes.

Inspired by a Speaker

Pisano is originally from Detroit and had had no training or education in psychology or social work before moving to Milford in the 1970s when her husband’s job took them here.

She says she joined the Milford Newcomer’s Club and one day a representative of the Crisis Center was a guest speaker. "I thought this is something I’d like to get involved in," Pisano remembers.

She has received plenty of training since then from the Milford Rape Crisis Center’s training program, as well as 35 years of experience helping rape and abuse victims. "Sort of on the job training, I guess you could call it," she says.

Gradually, her responsibilities increased until she assumed the job as executive director 10 years ago.

Victim's Advocates

"We provide information," she says in explaining the organization's role. "People call and don’t know what to do."

The center’s volunteers act as the victim’s advocate through the process of reporting the crime to the police, performing the rape kit procedure at the hospital, and interviews with detectives and prosecutors.

The multidisciplinary teams, which are sanctioned by the Governor’s Task Force on Justice for Abused Children, serve as advocates working with the Yale Child Sexual Abuse Clinic in New Haven. Their goal is to replace the need for numerous, repetitive victim interviews with a single interview by specially trained child abuse experts.

All the Milford Rape Crisis Center services are free to the victims. The center accepts donations, and holds fundraisers including its 9th Annual Indoor Golf Classic on February 24 at the , and the coming in April.

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