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Support key in helping domestic, sexual abuse survivors – Ladies Want More
Sunday , December 16 2018
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Support key in helping domestic, sexual abuse survivors

Participants in the Zonta Luminary Domestic Violence Awareness Walk hold signs and candles as well as wear purple bracelets and ribbons as they walk Thursday night in downtown Streator. The event also featured speakers at More on Main.

Supporters of domestic abuse survivors walked Main Street in downtown Streator on Thursday to bring awareness to the issue.

Sponsored by the Zonta Clubs of La Salle-Peru, Ottawa and Streator, participants wore purple bracelets and carried signs to spread their message, meeting at More on Main coffee shop to hear speakers from Safe Journeys, the La Salle County State’s Attorney’s Office and a survivor‘s story.

The message focused on what survivors should do to seek help and what people around them should do to support them.

Leila Siena, of the La Salle County State’s Attorney’s Office, works directly with domestic crimes. She said it is important to have a separate division when it comes to domestic crimes, because they are a complex issue.

“If you have any information about one of our charged crimes, and you want to call us, I may not talk to you directly, Karen may not talk to you directly, the secretary probably will,” Siena said. “She can’t give you information about the case, but she can listen to information that you have.”

Siena said prosecutors have the best success when they can speak with a survivor directly.

She said the majority of cases handled by prosecutors are domestic battery. Illinois law no longer requires a physical injury, meaning the state’s attorney’s office can pursue charges for a push or shove, or any unwanted contact that provokes a survivor.

Illinois law, however, does not allow prosecutors to help survivors with abusers who are manipulative, or abuse with power or control.

“What we try to do, we try to look at the situation, if it’s a situation we can file a different kind of charge,” Siena said. “For example, we may charge criminal damage to property if it applies, even though it is a domestic issue.”

Siena also said prosecutors are able to charge violation of orders of protection, no stalking orders, etc.

Siena said she is seeing a trend of people uncertain if it applies to domestic violence filing more reports. Siena said these are important, even if charges are not pursued, because they can be used as evidence if situations persist.

Safe Journeys, out of Streator, which is formerly ADV/SAS, changed its name recently to reflect its mission more accurately, noting surviving an abusive situation is a journey.

“They may wish to have support immediately after the abuse, or they may wish not to at that time. They may wish to have support a year later, or even 30 years later,” said Susan Bursztynsky, the agency’s director. “We are here to provide that support whenever a survivor wants it, in a trauma-informed manner that helps them feel safe.”

Safe Journeys assists about 500 people affected by domestic or sexual abuse annually. Their service is free and confidential.

They have a 24-hour support line, safe short-term shelter, counseling, case management and legal and medical advocacy, including responding within an hour with emergency departments.

“We know survivors don’t reach out to us. Instead they may approach a friend, or a family member, or a co-worker, someone else they know, they may say that they have been abused, or they may say something coded to see how that friend responds, if it is in a supportive manner, or they may say nothing, but you feel there is something not right,” Bursztynsky said.

Safe Journeys advises the public to recognize, respond and refer.

To recognize involves the public paying attention to the red flags of domestic or sexual violence, and have some basic information. Does a person have injuries that don’t make sense? Does a person wear sunglasses or clothing when it isn’t weather appropriate? Is a person all of a sudden isolated or breaking off contacts? Are there any recognizable personality changes with a person?

All of these may be signs of domestic or sexual abuse, or they may not, but Bursztynsky said they are worth responding.

“Step 1 is to ask,” she said. “For example, ‘I was just reading about domestic or sexual violence, I recognize one red flag is, (whatever you are seeing), I noticed that with you. I don’t know if you are being abused, but if you ever want to talk, just note I’m here to talk to you.’ That’s one way.”

Bursztynsky said it is important to reassure a survivor that they are not at fault.

“You can listen. You can support. Many times, survivors will tell you themselves,” she said. “Let them know you are there to support them and you are always there.”

To report, call Safe Journeys at 800-892-3375.

“The Journey to Healing” by domestic and sexual abuse survivor Rainey Albert was also on display at the coffee shop. The series of artwork gives insight into her feelings toward her abuser and her journey toward healing.

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