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HUNTINGTON — Furniture, Marshall University gear, toys, car gear and more are up for grabs at CONTACT’s annual silent auction, taking place virtually this year from 6 p.m. Thursday, May 6, until 7 p.m. Sunday, May 9.

CONTACT Rape Crisis Center assists people who have experienced sexual assault by providing information on options available after an assault takes place and comfort by supporting those who have experienced sexual assault. It serves people in Cabell, Wayne, Logan, Mingo, Mason and Lincoln counties.

Sharon Pressman, executive director at CONTACT, said the auction normally raises between $40,000 and $50,000, and money raised during this year’s silent auction will go toward furthering education programs and other services.

“One of the things that we are working on as we move forward is we want to increase our prevention education footprint in all six counties,” Pressman said. “We teach a lot about healthy boundaries, but with younger children we also teach anti-bullying, internet safety and emotional intelligence.”

Pressman said the center’s employees also teach about bystander intervention, which is how people can help prevent sexual assault with distraction or direct confrontation.

CONTACT did not start as a rape crisis center, Pressman said, but as a suicide hotline. The organization is celebrating 50 years of service and has seen many changes throughout the years.

In the past 10 years, assistant director Liz Deal said, CONTACT has opened the Logan, Mason, Mingo and Wayne county locations.

Deal said the professionalism of being a victim advocate has also become more recognized over the years, and people have begun to understand the importance of having a person who can assist someone in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

“A person is in a traumatic situation and is thrust into an environment where they don’t know what the rules are and they don’t know what the process is, and the advocate does,” Deal said.

“The advocate can help them be oriented and grounded and supported and make their own choices. Calling us is not calling the police; calling us is not calling your mom. An advocate can help you make whatever you think your best decision is and then support you while you’re doing that.”

CONTACT is not limited to people who have experienced sexual assault recently, but can also assist someone who had an experience in the past, according to Deal. While they are not licensed mental health specialists, they do have support groups for sexual assault survivors.

A change coming to the center includes the West Virginia Supreme Court Victim Outreach Project. This project allows for victims who want to get personal protection orders from the magistrate court to do so at CONTACT’s location. This way, Pressman said, they do not have to see the person they are getting the protection order against.

Individuals interested in participating in the virtual silent auction can find a link on CONTACT Huntington’s website at www.contacthuntington.com.

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