Pioneering Expert, Compassionate Victim Care

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024
Rape Treatment Center at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center.

One out of every five women in the United States will be a victim of rape in her lifetime.

In 1974, Gail Abarbanel was working as a social worker at a small community hospital in Santa Monica when she was asked to see a young woman in the Emergency Department who had attempted suicide. Abarbanel met with the patient, and through her compassionate interaction with her, the patient disclosed she had been raped. She felt she had no one to turn to, and that ending her life was the only way to end her pain. Abarbanel soon learned there were no standards for the care and treatment of rape victims in hospital Emergency Departments.

The public discourse on rape was then governed by a deep and profound mistrust of victims, who were predominantly women. Police officers were not trained in how to conduct trauma-informed interviews, or in special protocols for rape investigations. The court system was rife with discrimination against victims. They had to prove they resisted their attackers, and their sexual history could be introduced in court and used against them. These practices served as strong deterrents to reporting rapes and to seeking help.

Abarbanel founded the Rape Treatment Center (RTC) at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center to provide expert and compassionate care for victims 24 hours a day, and spent years working to change the attitudes, laws, and practices that had kept them silent. For decades, the RTC has served as a model and has advocated for special standards and protocols for the care and treatment of rape victims throughout the United States.

In 1991, the Rape Treatment Center was honored by the President of the United States for “bringing justice and compassionate care to rape victims and changing the nation’s consciousness about rape.”

Learning from Victims

“Everything we have created, all of our model programs and advocacy efforts, have been inspired and guided by what we have learned from victims,” Abarbanel says.

The RTC created the Verna Harrah Clinic, a dedicated 24-hour “ER” for rape victim care. In a private, safe, therapeutic setting within the UCLA hospital, rape victims receive highly specialized emergency and follow-up medical treatment, forensic services, crisis counseling, advocacy, information about their rights and options to support them in making informed choices and decisions, longer-term therapy, and many other support services. All free. To enhance the treatment victims receive wherever they turn for help, the RTC also trains first responders and other providers of victim services.

Mission of the Rape Treatment Center

Throughout its history, the RTC has translated what it has learned from victims and current research into protocols for all aspects of victim care, social action, community education, and prevention programs. 

The RTC is internationally recognized for its pioneering work and exemplary programs. Staffed by highly trained professionals with specialized expertise in the medical, forensic, and psychological aspects of victim care, it is their vision that the future be one where society does not tolerate sexual assault or sexual abuse in any form.


Rape Treatment Center at UCLA Santa MonicaMedical Center

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Senior Director of Development: Mimi Morningstar


To provide comprehensive treatment for adult and child victims of rape, sexual assault and other forms of sexual abuse; prevention and education initiatives that reduce the prevalence of these forms of violence; and training programs for law enforcement and other service providers to enhance the treatment victims receive wherever they turn for help.

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