The Me Too movement hit the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center like a deluge. In October 2017, calls shot up by 50 percent. And for the first time since executive director Mary Ellen Stone began her job 39 years ago, what she’s always known to be true finally became visible: Sexual assault and harassment are rampant.
Stone began at the nonprofit—originally named the King County Rape Relief—in 1979 as one of three staff members with a combined budget of $50,000. Some things have changed; throughout the years, the center has acquired a $6 million budget and 64 employees. Stone remains. Becky Roe, an attorney and advocate for survivors, calls Stone “visionary” and credits her as the driving force behind KCSARC’s success.
She led the organization through the 2008 financial crisis, dismissals and denials—back when even law enforcement and legal institutions wouldn’t acknowledge the pervasiveness of rapes—and successes and failures in attempts to change state law. No doubt about it, the organization’s been at the forefront of sexual assault advocacy for decades; and Stone’s been in the center of it all, long before the organization received any headlines.
To Stone, a trained mental health therapist, getting involved in KCSARC was a no-brainer. The sexual assault center became just another piece of the bigger picture she wanted changed; assault and domestic violence were all interconnected to society’s larger problems, like rigid gender roles and inequality for women. “I’m going to make our world better for my nieces and my grandnieces.”
It’s never been a straight line toward progress, Stone says. What’s kept her going all these years are the clients who tell her that the center saved their lives. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”