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“I’m just there for them”

 

Only 30 hours removed from spending an entire night with a sexual assault victim at an area hospital, the Women's Center's Alexa Bond reflected on her first six months as a Medical/Legal Advocate for Rape Crisis Services in our Marion office. 

“I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be” Bond said, adding that those first six months have been “very rewarding.”

After working in the Domestic Violence Division of Williamson County State’s Attorney’s office for 11 months, Bond had become well acquainted with the frequency of domestic violence incidents in Williamson County and daily worked on cases in which an abused person was seeking an Order of Protection to keep them safe from an abuser.

          “I had to know a lot about a lot,” she said, and during her year at the States Attorney’s office she did Order of Protection paperwork five days a week.“People are lined up at the courthouse before            7:30 most mornings,” she said, “and there are times when we can’t complete the 30-page OP application in time for a hearing that same day.”

          She felt comfortable in that position, but as her one-year anniversary approached, “I realized it was time for a change. I wanted to see people as a whole,” Bond said, “and be able to help them                when they were in the middle of a crisis.”

          While Bond was at the State’s Attorney office, Sarah Settles, our Legal Advocate in Marion, worked with her on Domestic Violence cases and was impressed with her enough to recruit her when                an opening occurred as Rape Crises Advocate.

          “She’s dedicated and a fast learner,” Settles said of Bond, “and has the biggest heart I’ve ever met in anyone.”

          A native of Marion and graduate of Marion High School, Bond attended the University of Alabama, initially to study Business. She switched her major to Criminal Justice, and although her aspiration            to become a police officer or US Marshall had waned long before graduation, she took the undergraduate opportunity to research topics such as Women in Prison and Cycles of Domestic Violence.

          “I was too compassionate to be a police officer,” she said.

          She still finds meeting sexual assault victims at a hospital immediately after their rape to be challenging.

“It is heavy stuff to hear and be a part of,” Bond said, “but I now realize that the best thing I can do is listen.” She described the process of the rape survivor meeting with nurses, doctors and police officers immediately after the assault – often for a length of time similar to the five hours she had spent a day earlier – and that the process is often very uncomfortable and invasive. “Everyone else has their tasks to do,” she said, “but I’m just there for them.”

Her Criminal Justice degree sometimes getting the better of her, Bond is occasionally taken aback when a rape survivor doesn’t talk with police or have an evidence collection kit collected.

“When I think about it from their perspective,” Bond said, “I acknowledge that in order to pursue justice, the survivor will have to tell their story and relive the experience multiple times.” She also noted a greater reluctance for some sexual assault survivors to even go to the hospital.

“In the more rural towns in our area, a sexual assault survivor doesn’t want to go to the ER because their mom’s friend might work there.” 

She is encouraged and inspired by survivors who commit to seeking justice. Bond said “I have clients who tell me ‘I don’t care how long it will take; I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.’ They don’t want justice just for themselves as much as for (a perpetrator’s) past and possible future victims.”

She is often frustrated with the delays involved in trying someone accused of sexual assault. “So much time and money seem to be wasted as the process draws out,” Bond said, “as the defense attorney tries to drag things out as long as possible.”

Bond is excited when she says “I have several cases about to go to trial that have gone fairly fast,” but admits that “fast” is when the assaults took place slightly less than two years ago.

She is cautious when speaking with her clients, both initially and as the legal process wears on. “I want to be honest, but don’t want to take their hope away,” she said.

“They just want to get back to normal, and I just want to help.”

Not always paradise

     by John Pfeifer, Development Specialist

     I walked along Kaanapali Beach very early on a Tuesday morning last month.. The sun was rising on the east side of the island, fewer than ten hours after I had                     experienced my first magnificent Maui sunset on the island’s western shore. I was – as always – on my way to Starbucks.

     Later that same day, after a short mostly vertical drive to the 10,023 foot summit in Haleakala National Park, I found myself looking down into the crater floor from high above the clouds. The views       – whether obscured by clouds or not – were delightfully different than any I had experienced before. And only hours after my early morning 75 degree beach walk, the wind was blowing, and the           temperature was a brisk 53 degrees. Shorts and a sweatshirt, my preferred attire, were the order of the day.

     Everything was perfect.

     I was – to be certain – in paradise.

     Only five days later, the hiking paths in Haleakala were closed after a female backpacker was assaulted as she descended towards the crater floor, several hundred yards below where I had hiked       the previous Tuesday through the Hawaiian “paradise”. Attempts to find the alleged perpetrator were unsuccessful.

     As I read the story online, two links caught my attention and I clicked away, shortly discovering the following:

     • Last week a Maui police officer – commander of the Criminal Investigation Division – resigned from his position after an internal investigation concluded he committed fourth degree sexual                   assault last summer when he touched the buttocks of a female subordinate several times during a one-week period.

     • In April, a man was convicted of two counts of assault and faces a 10-year sentence after pinning his wife’s throat to the ground with his forearm and threatening her with a large kitchen knife.             This happened while the couple was camping, also in the “paradise” that is Haleakala National Park.

     Now it’s safe to say – with apologies to sunrise at Garden of the Gods or the splendor of last August’s solar eclipse – that our local landmarks are referred to as paradise with far less frequency             than the mountains, waterfalls or beaches of Maui. And yet in that “paradise”, domestic violence and sexual assault occur.

In southern Illinois, sexual and domestic violence occurs far too frequently.

In Franklin, Gallatin, Jackson, Johnson, Perry, Saline, Union and Williamson counties, The Women’s Center is the only agency that supports, encourages, advocates for and provides safe shelter for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

We’ve been doing so since 1972.

Last year we assisted 209 survivors of sexual assault, provided 7,283 nights of safe shelter and an additional 3,650 nights of transitional housing. We took over 9,000 Hotline calls, assisted in obtaining 638 Orders of Protection and served 212 children and over 1100 adults with domestic violence care, advocacy and counseling.

And yet each of these numbers is more than a mere statistic; each relates to an individual person with an individual story. We likely met them for the first time at the deepest, darkest moment of their life. They don’t expect paradise and we don’t promise it.

But those that are hurt deserve a safe place to heal, and those who have been victims deserve the time and a place to become survivors. To live, not just exist. They deserve a chance to experience hope.

If you’d like to help – as a volunteer or through a financial contribution – we would love to hear from you and enlist you as a partner in providing that hope. Give us a call at 618-549-4807.

Two Visits

 It was Wednesday, April 19 and we were hurting. Our cash reserves were depleted, our precious $100,000 CD cashed in and I was about to fill out paperwork to establish a line of credit using our building as collateral.

Established in 1972, the “we” I refer to above is the Women’s Center, the agency that has an established shelter in Carbondale and also provides services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in eight counties across southern Illinois including Williamson. I was Treasurer of the Center at that point, a board member for three years, and my reports became the impetus to discuss furloughs, layoffs, holding positions open, cutting back on services, and yes – discussing the possibility that we might not live to see our 45th anniversary.

Either because they forgot, or perhaps because they “forgot” (wink, wink), the Illinois General Assembly left domestic violence prevention unfunded when they passed a stopgap budget in June, 2016, and without state appropriations we could not access the federal dollars that required matching state funds.

Victims who needed assistance in their struggle to become survivors were again without power and without a voice in Springfield, and were in danger of being told to go fend for themselves.

It was against this backdrop that State Comptroller Susana Mendoza visited the Women’s Center on April 19, took a tour, interacted with staff and clients and assured us – or at least tried to assure us – that better days were coming and that when appropriations were approved that our checks would be placed at the top of what had become a very, very, very high stack of bills.

She did not lie.

When members of the legislature finally decided to do their job, including retroactively funding domestic violence prevention, Mendoza elevated our checks to the top of the pile of the state’s unpaid bills; a pile that currently totals just under $10 billion.

Last Tuesday – less than a week after the Women’s Center celebrated their 45th anniversary -  Mendoza was back in southern Illinois and back at the Women’s Center. She wasn’t there to take a curtain call, although she certainly could have. She still spoke critically of Gov. Rauner, but her overall tone was more understanding, more conciliatory, more aware that the financial problems that still confront the state were not made overnight and were most certainly not made by members of a single political party.

She realizes that it will take both Republicans and Democrats to fix the mess that is our state, and that those that take the lead in offering compromise and providing solutions may well be the first to inherit the wrath of their party elders.

For now, suffice it to say Mendoza expedited payment to providers of sexual assault and domestic violence programs across the state and helped The Women’s Center – at least for now – regain the financial footing that will allow us to focus on victims rather than making payroll.