She sat in her petite office finishing up some last minute emails. Her mind prepared her for what she knew was waiting outside patiently, a girl, no more than 21 years old, on the brink of mental breakdown.
Rebecca Lockwood, the associate director and counselor for UMass Amherst’s Every Women’s Center, was all too familiar with this routine. She had listened to what seemed like countless cases of sexual assault, and offered her two cents to every victim.
Every day, Lockwood drives from her house in Palmer to the New Africa House on UMass Amherst’s campus to meet with grieving females who have been sexually assaulted.
“This is what comes with the job, I realized when I got into this business that it wasn’t for the faint of heart. I knew what I was getting myself into,” said Lockwood.
Lockwood, a graduate from the University of Connecticut in Psychology with a master’s degree from UMass Amherst, has been counseling for the Every Women’s Center since October 2001, and loves her job.
“I absolutely love it. It’s so rewarding to help people,” said Lockwood, “as a counselor, you need to be a stability for them, that shoulder they can lean on, a lot of times the counselor is the only person that the victim opens up to.”
Despite loving her role as a sexual assault counselor, Lockwood admits that her experiences with the victims do take a toll on her: “There have been times where I couldn’t sleep because of what I’ve heard or specific stories that a victim has told me. The worst part is seeing how distraught and depressed their countenances are, it hurts me to see someone hurting like that.”
Another obstacle that Lockwood faces in her daily life is coming to terms with letting her daughters explore the world. “It’s difficult being a mother of two daughters. I try not to be too smothering, but when you’re surrounded by sexual violence daily, it’s tough not to worry.”
Lockwood acknowledges that sexual assault and violence are prevalent in Amherst, even if few cases are brought to the forefront of the local news. She estimates that over 150 sexual assaults occur each year in Amherst alone.
That number is sharply different from the number UMass Amherst Police Chief Patrick Archbald reported this last year: “Last year UMass only had eight reported sexual assaults.”
The main reason for such a large differentiation in statistics is due to the fact that most sexual assault cases are not reported to authorities or to counselors such as Lockwood. According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, 54% of assaults are not reported police and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
Sexual violence often goes unreported for fear of physical and emotional safety, because the victim doesn’t feel comfortable reporting to the interviewer, and for the thought of disbelief or fabrication.
In the past few months alone, two major sexual violence cases have surfaced in Amherst. A girl was raped in her Southwest dormitory by four Pittsfield men. Shortly after, an Amherst College girl was sexually assaulted and subsequently mistreated by the school’s faculty and administration.
“Both of those instances were a warning to students to be aware of your surroundings and who you affiliate yourselves with,” said Lockwood, “what’s alarming is that these types of cases are occurring more often than people think.”
Since the two sexual assault cases have surfaced, residential hall security has gone up, with new student police cadets in every residential hall on weekends, and an increase in security cameras in both stairwells and elevators.
However, according to UMass Residence Security Director Jim Meade, “it is the student’s responsibility for their guests, they need to be aware of who they bring in. Sometimes you think you know someone, but you don’t really know what they are capable of.”
Lockwood believes that it takes tremendous courage for victims to step forward, but if more do so then sexual violence numbers will be lowered significantly.
There is something enlightening about speaking with sexual violence victims, and according to Lockwood she does not see herself stopping her career anytime soon.
“I am proud of the females I have seen and spoken with, they are fine young ladies with aspiring careers. In fact, I still am in contact with a number of them, it develops an unimaginable trust, not only for the victim, but for me as well.”
Lockwood wouldn’t have it any other way, which is why she will remain in her petite office, with welcoming arms, to all sexual assault victims on the verge of mental breakdown, until she loses her passion for helping others.
This, according to Lockwood, may never happen. “I don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon. The personal satisfaction and gain is too rewarding.”
Here are some images from my news package:
*Note: I was denied permission to photograph Lockwood during counseling