Sexual abuse can be a difficult thing to discuss, but local organization SOS, Inc. helps spread the word on how to prevent and address sexual abuse, as well as advocate for victims.
In traumatic times, “what that person really needs is some support and somebody to be by their side,” SOS Crisis Services Director Mary Halleran said. This may be a trusted adult friend, family member or authority.
Halleran offered three things for friends, family members and other support units to say to help victims of sexual abuse:
“I’m so sorry that this happened to you.”
“I believe you.”
“What can I do to help?”
“If people stick to those three things, at least a victim is going to feel like there is somebody there with them,” Halleran said. “They’re not going to feel all alone.”
SOS Executive Director Connie Cahoone also emphasized the “I believe you” message and added, “This is not your fault.”
Victims may visit the SOS office, where they meet with an advocate who can help outline their options, including going to the authorities. SOS does not advise one way or the other and aims to listen to, believe in and encourage victims.
“Everybody who comes to SOS gets to make their own choices,” Halleran said. “If they choose to go through the system … we’re going to be right there with them ... We’re going to be sitting next to them in court. We’re going to be there with their family, if they choose to … Sometimes there isn’t family available, and that makes it all the more difficult.
“The criminal justice system is set up to protect the rights of the accused, rightly so. Unfortunately, the victim gets sort of left in the background a little bit, and it becomes a business of, ‘What evidence do we have to convict?’
“It does not negate the fact that they still need that support. They still need somebody in their corner. They still need somebody to say, ‘Hey, what can I do for you?’
“At the end of the day, their healing is what we’re worried about. We want justice. But, at the end of the day, we want that person who has been harmed to be healthy and happy.”
In cases when the accused are not convicted, Cahoone said to not let it diminish the victim’s experience.
“Please know many, many others understand completely,” she said. “You are brave to go forward. You are very strong, and you can overcome this.
“The percentage of people that make things up is very small. Victimization does have an impact on the brain and how things are remembered and how things are told, and that does then have an impact on the court case, because that trauma to the brain is very real and very strong and causes stories to change, so it makes it very hard to not challenge at times. It’s really hard for the victim.”
In cases of rape or other physical harm, victims are encouraged to go to the emergency room and visit with a sexual assault nurse examiner. The hospital will call SOS, and an advocate will respond to the hospital. Victims may accept the advocate or choose to not have an advocate. If they would like time to think about it, the advocate will leave SOS contact information.
“Dr. Anna LaSota (at Newman Regional Health) is a champion of medical team and forensic exams on sexual assault victims,” Cahoone said. “She understands the trauma that they are going through, both physically and mentally.”
LaSota said if a victim has not yet received an examination but would like one, even if time has passed since the incident, visit Newman Regional.
For counseling and other emotional support, visit CrossWinds Counseling and Wellness. SOS is also connected with the Emporia State University Wellness Center for students who visit in regard to sexual abuse.
“We try to be available to any community group, any community agency out there who needs us,” Halleran said.
SOS has also implemented a Safe Place Program for local businesses. Businesses with the proper indicator provide a safe space for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, where they can call SOS or the authorities for immediate help or for making a safety plan. The Safe Bar Program is similar, with the aim to prevent alcohol-related sexual abuse by training the bar staff what to look for to help intervene.
“Know that we here at SOS are willing to help, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Cahoone said.
SOS provides four branches of services, Crisis Services, Child Visitation and Exchange Center, CASA of the Flint Hills and Child Advocacy Center. Victims are offered an advocate to be a support unit and help provide the victim resources for services from which they may benefit.
SOS is also willing to visit with local groups and organizations to provide resources and education, such as response cards that talk about consent and how to respond to someone who shares they have been the victim of sexual abuse. To coordinate an SOS talk with an organization, call 343-8799.
“We care a great deal about the victims that we serve,” Cahoone said. “We truly want them to know that we care deeply and that we are here to help them from their victimization until they become thrivers ... We invite them to our services and our support and welcome them with open arms.”
Victims are welcome to go directly to SOS during regular business hours or call the 24-hour helpline at 800- 825-1295. The Emporia office is located at 618 Mechanic St. SOS also has offices in Council Grove, Lyndon, Burlington and Eureka.