Elizabeth Olsen may save the day in Marvel films, but on Wednesday evening she highlighted her own hero: Gail Abarbanel, the founder and director of the Rape Foundation and Stuart House.
In her speech at Variety’s Power of Women event presented by Lifetime, Olsen spoke passionately about Abarbanel, also in attendance, and the Los Angeles organization that the activist founded nearly five decades ago.
“When I learned about tonight, I asked Gail if there is anything that she would like to do next with the foundation, because in my mind she’s already thought of everything. She said, ‘Yes, to stop sexual abuse on the internet,’” Olsen said. “To me that sounded very, very big and maybe impossible. But if you were to ask her what she wanted to create in 1974, I think that would have also sounded just as big and impossible.”
Olsen recalled her first meeting with Abarbanel, who founded Stuart House after recognizing how poor support networks for sexual abuse victims were during her time as a social worker in Santa Monica. The organization has since become an internationally renowned model for child advocacy centers, providing a place where children who have been sexually assaulted are provided free medical, legal and psychological care.
Olsen first met Abarbanel in 2015, when she received a tour of Stuart House and its facilities.
“I learned about all the ways that Stuart House has managed to fill a need in a system that can otherwise be so damaging to child victims,” Olsen said. “Without a program like Stuart House, it’s not unheard of for a child to have to go to as many as six different agencies to report their abuse and sit through interviews by professionals with no training whatsoever on how to work with children. At Stuart House, they provide in-house police detectives, prosecutors, child advocates, therapists and forensic services to help expedite investigations and child protection actions.”
Olsen also took a moment to describe the volunteer work she does for Stuart House, which involves working alongside carefully vetted adults as they welcome and engage with children waiting for appointments, providing a safe, comfortable space for victims.
“I don’t say this lightly, but the kids who come to Stuart House really love coming… There’s a boy who is 5 who’s been with us for the last three months and he started coming early just because he wants to play with our magnetic tiles,” Olsen shared. “Ultimately he’s having a positive association with the people and the place where he is receiving treatment — treatment that will ultimately be life-saving for his future. And his future is one of many that Gail has helped transform.”