WHEELING, WV — The head of the YWCA in Wheeling, West Virginia, has a message for rape victims: "You are not alone. There are services available to help you. Don't suffer in silence. Reach out and get help."
Wheeling's YWCA -- 20 miles from the Ohio town of Steubenville -- has become the unexpected beneficiary of support from around the country and around the world after a highly publicized rape case.
Two star high school football players were convicted Sunday of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl, identified only as Jane Doe. She has been the target of death threats this week, prompting people to come out to support her financially and in social media.
Lori Jones, executive director of the Wheeling YWCA, said she has received more than 2,500 donations.
"It's been an overwhelming amount of support from the community and worldwide," Jones said. "We've not even started to add it all up yet."
Bob Fitzsimmons, the victim's attorney, says he is not taking any money for the case. Any donations toward legal fees are instead being sent to the Wheeling YWCA's Madden House, an emergency shelter that offers secure housing to women and children fleeing domestic violence.
"This young girl has been a hero to a lot of people that she stood up, but it also demonstrates what women have to go through to make these allegations. It's not easy," Fitzsimmons said.
The Wheeling YWCA also is maintaining a message board where people can leave notes of support for the victim. Thousands have left encouraging words, and they are being sent to the teen.
"People seem to need to send a message," Jones said. "It's important to them that she get the feeling for how much the community and the world wants to support her."
The Wheeling YWCA serves an estimated 30,000 people a year across three counties. It also is part of a larger national movement that focuses on empowering women to change their lives for the better.
If you are a rape victim or know of someone who needs help, the national rape hotline is 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) and the national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233.) A phone call can be the first step to reach out and get help.