Culture Shift

After 34 years of running the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center, Clare Mounteer originally planned to visit her family back in England post-retirement. With travel restrictions in place, her new plan includes more miles on her folding bike.

Before coming on as Monterey County Rape Crisis Center’s executive director, Clare Mounteer was mulling over whether she wanted the job or not. She submitted her application for the position but decided she would also go through a volunteer training course provided by the MCRCC, to help staff the phones – the nitty-gritty work of being the person on the other end of the line talking to someone in crisis, who may have just suffered sexual assault or someone seeking help from sexual trauma suffered years ago. “And I just fell in love with the job,” Mounteer says.

That was 1986. In the years since, she’s helped rolled out countless programs and projects like allowing survivors to share their stories anonymously on MCRCC’s website, or introducing clubs on high school campuses to foster healthier perceptions of sexuality. Some aspects of her role haven’t changed, like manning the phone lines when they’re low on volunteers.

Another thing that never changed: the nonprofit’s original name. “A lot of similar organizations, they’ve kind of sanitized their name,” Mounteer says. “But call it rape, what it is. My feeling was to never change our name because I am the director, and if I can’t talk about it, who can? It would just be another way of burying the issue.”

After 34 years, Mounteer is retiring and is passing the baton to MCRCC’s Deputy Director Lauren DaSilva. “The organization will be in good hands with Lauren,” Mounteer says. But before Mounteer hops on her folding bike to retirement, she spoke to the Weekly for a final interview.

Weekly: MCRCC doesn’t just provide immediate crisis help. They do a lot of work in schools and in public talking about rape culture. Why is the cultural aspect important?

Mounteer: It’s the chicken and the egg question, right? Rape happens, but if you don’t change the culture around rape, it’s going to keep happening. So things like cultural norms, sexism or gender equity are necessary to talk about.

Sex education is a difficult thing to teach. And if we don’t step in and teach people about sex and the culture that surrounds it, then they learn about sex not from school, but from pornography, which has horrible messaging.

When Jeannine Pacioni became District Attorney, one of her focuses was on childhood sex trafficking. How bad is the issue in Monterey County?

I don’t think we really know, and that’s the problem. In a lot of instances, people don’t know that they’re a victim so they don’t seek help. There has been a bit of an uptick as people are better educated about it and people out in public are better at reporting it. It’s a little bit of the “see something, say something” logic.

There have been more cases of older men revealing they’ve been sexually abused by trusted people like their priest or, most recently, by their Boy Scouts leaders. Why is this just happening now?

If you think about how difficult it is for women to seek help, imagine how difficult it is for boys and men. It goes with gender norms: boys don’t cry, they don’t need help.

There’s now a little less shame coming forward, blaming the perpetrator rather than the victim. It’s still not enough – plenty of people still blame the victim, but it is shifting.

What needs to happen in the criminal justice system so that victims and survivors are better served?

I don’t think the criminal justice system works very well for survivors of sexual assault. It’s such a unique crime in so many ways. They’re considered a complaining witness when they are brought to court, it’s not Jane Doe vs. John Doe—it’s framed as The People vs. John Doe.

The system is just this overwhelming entity. It’s there to protect the rights of perpetrators and the accused, and is difficult to access. In the future, I’d like to see more restorative justice for sexual assault. Many victims just want an apology because the perpetrators are often people close to them. Restitution doesn’t do apologies. They do checks.

What’s one part of your job that you won’t miss?

Dealing with government grants. Over the years, there have been more requirements and more regulations.

What are you looking forward to during retirement?

I’m excited to become a more avid reader and bike rider. I have this cool little folding bike and now I’m up to 15-mile rides.

Marielle Argueza is a staff writer and calendar editor for the Weekly. She covers education, immigration and culture. Additionally, she covers the areas of Marina and South County. She occasionally writes about food and runs the internship program.

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