Mid-Coast Family Services adds sexual assault services
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Sexual assault crisis calls can be directed to the Mid-Coast Family Services office at 361-575-7842 or the 24-hour hotline at 361-573-HELP (4357).
Mid-Coast Family Services is now providing sexual assault services in the Crossroads.
Those services had been in limbo since Hope of South Texas suspended them in September.
"It's the right thing to do. The community has been so good to us, and now it's our turn," said Ginny Stafford, Mid-Coast chief executive officer.
Others with an interest in making sure such services are available are also pleased that Mid-Coast has stepped in.
"Mid-Coast Family Services has a long history of addressing the intervention and prevention of family violence in their area," said Rick Gipprich, communications director with the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.
"Although family violence and sexual violence sometimes look very different, the intersections of the risk factors that lead to both issues are very common.
"We have seen other family violence or domestic violence programs across Texas start or assume sexual assault services and have done a great job and have been assets to their communities," Gipprich said.
Stafford said Mid-Coast Family Services was in a position with its existing resources to add the services.
The agency had an existing hotline number, communication and administrative services in place.
The United Way of Victoria County board of directors saw the need, too. The board has approved a $30,000 supplemental grant to Mid-Coast for the sexual assault services program.
The grant will be used to support the salary and benefits of one full-time crisis counselor.
"We are pleased that our grant will allow the continuation of this important service and help close a gap in funding," said Russell Janecka, United Way board chairman in a press release.
"This program is a critical component to the safety net of services we fund as a United Way," said Jennifer Yancey, United Way community investment chairwoman, in a press release. "Sexual assault is a violent crime; and to have a skilled crisis counselor available ... is absolutely essential in helping victims with their emotional and psychological needs.
"Equally impressive is the willingness of Mid-Coast Family Services to leverage its internal and existing resources to make sure this program continues in our community," Yancey said.
The United Way grant will not fund the complete program, Stafford said.
"We will be fundraising in a big way for the rest of the year," she said. "We also will be recruiting volunteers to work in this or one of our other programs."
Every two minutes in Texas, someone is raped, said Gipprich.
"It's difficult when a center that provides advocacy, a 24-hour hotline or counseling services to a survivor is no longer available," he said.
"What that means to a community, especially when an issue like this is so deeply rooted in victim-blaming and silence, is that they have nowhere to go to get the help and the support that they need."
Gipprich said intervention after a sexual assault is a vital path to a survivor's recovery.
"Intervention puts them on the road to healing and hope after they have gotten the help," he said.
Victoria has two certified sexual assault nurse examiners who conduct forensic exams at Citizens Medical Center and at DeTar Hospital North.
Sexual assault victims who live in Victoria County or one of the outlying counties may receive a specialized examination to collect evidence that may be needed in the event a crime has occurred.
Mid-Coast Family Services has hired a full-time crisis counselor who has eight years of experience to be on site during the examination to provide information and comfort to the victim and the victim's family.
The counselor also assists with all the necessary paperwork as well as acts as a liaison between the family and the nurse examiners.
Short-term counseling and legal advocacy also will be provided in the days after the exam.
"When an advocate answers a hotline call in the middle of the night or accompanies a survivor to the hospital for a rape exam, they serve many purposes," said Gipprich.
"Advocates are a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, someone to guide survivors and connect them to resources and someone who speaks with, not for, a rape victim."
STATE OF HOPE
Hope of South Texas is in a state of flux.
Jim Cole, treasurer of the organization's board of directors, said the agency is undergoing a reorganization.
"There are no current employees," Cole said.
A search is underway for a forensic interviewer and executive director. Hope of South Texas will continue to function in its role of Child Advocacy Center, he said.
"Forensic interview services are currently being provided by The Harbor in Port Lavaca. We believe that with the modifications, the organization will be on sound financial footing," Cole said.
Hope of South Texas, founded in 1986, served six counties in the Golden Crescent region and operated the area's largest sexual assault crisis center.
Hope staff members accompanied sexual assault victims and their families to the hospital, to court and to law enforcement agencies. Hope also operated the 24-hour crisis intervention hotline.
Through Mid-Coast Family Services, Gipprich sees hope, even in the loss of Hope.
"The key to a successful dual agency - one that provides both family violence and sexual violence services - is to maintain the right balance of presence and visibility in the community," he said.
"Just as much emphasis on sexual violence intervention and prevention needs to be made as it does for family violence. Mid-Coast has an amazing opportunity to do just that."