One of the first rape treatment centers in America, the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center, is tucked inside Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida. The origin of the center traces back to 1971, a year which feminist Roxcy Bolton, for whom the center is named, viewed as particularly perilous for women in Miami. The vibrant city was experiencing a sharp rise in sexual assault cases, which galvanized Bolton and women of all types—from housewives to professionals—to unite around an obvious community crisis.
By 1974, Bolton and her vanguard were successful enough in their efforts to open one the country’s first medical facilities specifically designed for victims of rape. It’s reported that the Center’s oldest patient was 98 years old; its youngest was age two. Bolton passed away this month at the age of 90 years old. She will forever be remembered a hero and figurehead at the forefront of recognizing sexual violence as a modern-day epidemic in America—and as the voice of shamed and silenced victims.
Although her life and victories are immense, it would be foolish to believe Bolton’s life represents anything less than one woman’s battle in the persistent war against rape culture in America. One only needs to examine the statistics from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) to see that Bolton’s fight is not over: some 320,500 Americans 12 years and older are sexually assaulted or raped. Sexual assault is vastly underreported, and those who commit the crime are far less likely to go to prison. Many victims fear retaliation, doubt and a perceived unwillingness of authorities to help. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.”
These numbers together paint an ominous picture: far too many people of both genders fall victim to sexual violence. A large percentage of them are still forced into the shadows—nine in 10. In creating a medical facility for such people 40-some years ago, however, Bolton helped give that community a safe haven—a place to be okay, where their stories weren’t questioned or mitigated.
Aside from telling women that talking about rape openly was necessary, Bolton regularly challenged misogyny. When she noticed that meterologists gave hurricanes only female names, she found it peculiar. As Jezebel reports, the weather-naming schema led to using “sexist clichés” to describe the storms, which “flirted” with the coast or were “temperamental.” At first Bolton’s criticism was scoffed at by politicians; a decade later, a hurricane was given a man’s name: Bob.
Bolton was also the driving force behind persuading Richard Nixon to make August 26th Woman’s Equality Day and convincing Indiana Senator Birch Bayh to introduce the Equal Rights Amendment to Congress.
None of Bolton’s endeavors are less crucial today. Consider the vitriol against Leslie Jones, or how our president has talked about women. Note that 90 percent of rape victims today still remain silent. Shame related to sex and sexual violence is still woven into the fabric of American life, and we need more Roxcy Boltons to challenge and change the way we talk about it.
The Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center still provides 24/7 hotline support to those who experience violence. Bolton knew that reaching out to listen to those victimized will always be one of our strongest weapons to fight inhumanity. Rest in peace, Roxcy Bolton.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual violence, resources and immmediate help are available, starting with RAINN’s 24/7 crisis hotline, National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-4673. You can also visit centers.rainn.org to find a crisis center in your state.