LAWRENCEBURG – Catherine Dwyer, Community Mental Health Center’s Directions! Rape Crisis Support & Advocacy Services Program manager, wrote a bittersweet letter to many southeastern Indiana residents recently. She was inviting them to the program’s final Take Back the Night event April 10.
The message said that Directions! was established in 1977 in response to a state mandate to provide services for rape prevention and control. The program has served over 3,800 victims/survivors and their loved ones in CMHC’s five counties.
The Lawrenceburg resident, formerly of Batesville, said, “The majority of our volunteer advocates have been with the team for 20-30 years. Their commitment and fortitude is beyond compare. Together, over the last 41 years, we have dug trenches for communication; built bridges between hospitals, law enforcement, prosecutors and victims; and created community partnerships and awareness where there once were none.”
“New state and federal monies have been granted for organizations to open rape crisis centers,” including the Batesville-based Safe Passage with a similar coverage area.
Her letter concluded, “After long discussions and much soul searching by myself, the team and CMHC, we have come to the painful decision to retire the team at the end of September.”
CMHC executive director Tom Talbot opened the event at the Dearborn Adult Center by saying, “Tonight we gather here to honor the courage of all survivors.”
Of the dedicated volunteers, he observed, “We thank them most of all.” He also praised the leadership of Dwyer, who started as a volunteer with the program in 1991. “Cathy is one of the most passionate and energetic people I know.”
Dwyer told about 100 attendees, “It takes a community … to change the culture of rape consciousness in this country … Everybody plays a role when it comes to ending sexual violence. Maybe your role is just holding a hand.”
“In a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Indiana is No. 1 in the United States for the most rapes involving teen girls: 17.3 percent of girls in grades 9-12 reported being forced into sexual intercourse. The national average is 10.5 percent. It’s an epidemic and the only way to change it is with your voice … not to fight and argue and tell people they’re wrong, but to empower people and educate them.” She urged residents to stand up to inappropriate gestures and language.
Prosecutor Lynn Deddens, who works in Dearborn and Ohio counties, was the keynote speaker.
While studying to pass the bar exam in 2003, Deddens remembered she was panicked. A friend named Richard who was a counselor calmed her down. He asked, “Why do you want to pass the bar exam?” She recalled holding the hand of a girl’s mother during a deposition. “This was a child molesting case and the defendant was the mother’s boyfriend.” The mom had immense amounts of guilt. She said, “‘You know, I should have known something was wrong’ when the daughter begged to go to the store with her and not stay home with the boyfriend. “Richard said, ‘That’s your why … You were meant to give that little girl a voice.’ … And there are still days I think of this girl and I think of Richard.”
“It’s about seeking justice … giving a voice to someone who’s powerless.”
The attorney was grateful to the volunteers and how they help victims. “You talk to them, you listen, you help keep track of them … their phone numbers will change 6 million times … you help us get them ready for trial and give them confidence to testify. When these victims break down, you’re there for them … you tell them how brave they were to face” their perpetrators.
“I hope you know you’ve made a difference and make a difference. It seems so underrated, but all I can offer is ‘Thank you.'”
Then three sexual assault survivors spoke.
Dana Patton, Centerville, Ohio, has two adult daughters and calls herself “a thriving survivor.”
The 14-year U.S. Army veteran was molested by a family friend at 10, raped by a cousin at 13 and gang raped in the Army. She never reported the incidents. “It was not until my second divorce that I began to deal with my traumas and I began to heal.” She was grateful for her Teal Ribbon Cheerleaders Squad, with that color denoting a sexual violence survivor. “They rally behind me and they believe in me when I may not believe in myself.”
The speaker reflected, “Some people are not empathetic or understanding about the healing process. God for me is the captain of the teal squad. He has been my rock through some really hard times.” A girlfriend “is right there … she knows when I’m struggling. She will talk me through panic attacks.” Her daughters are also on the cheerleading squad. “They didn’t ask for this,” Patton said tearfully.
To other survivors, she said, “I hope you, too, find your cheerleading squad.”
Sally Lushion, Indianapolis, spoke at the Lawrenceburg evening for the third time. She urged attendees to watch the “I am Evidence” documentary on HBO, which premieres April 17. “It explores the shocking way cases have been processed in the U.S.” The program will share stories of sex assault survivors and the years they waited for justice. In the preview, a woman’s voice said, “I can understand one city being negligent (about not processing rape kits) – but a nation?”
Lushion was beaten and raped during a home invasion. Her marriage ended in divorce after the crime, which is still unsolved. “I can tell you what I learned about life. It goes on… I still have PTSD” 31 years after the incident.
Lushion asked herself, “‘Do you really want to live like this for the rest of your life? No, I really don’t.’ So I set out to bring change to my life and I did just that.” She became a certified sexual assault advocate in 2016. “There are just so many men and women and boys and girls who face sexual assault … and they do it all alone. Tell them, ‘I believe you … it took a lot of courage for you to tell me … you are not alone.’ Your support of a loved one who has experienced sexual violence may be a critical step in their healing journey.”
Margi Redd was living in Brookville and working in Lawrenceburg 13 years ago. She was asleep and home alone. “I woke up suddenly with a man on top of me and a knife at my throat. This man was someone I knew,” her oldest daughter’s boyfriend and the father of her two grandsons. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 250 pounds. “There was no getting away. He told me I was going to have sex with him. ‘No, I’m not. Get off of me.’ Through the grace of God, I was able to talk my way out of being raped, being hurt.”
After he left, she called police. “That’s when the panic struck, the fear …. This man knew where my spare key was and how to get into my home.” When police questioned the man, “he did not deny anything” and was jailed. The knife and door were never fingerprinted because he confessed, but then the boyfriend changed his plea to not guilty and bonded out of jail.
“I was afraid to go to work, I was afraid to go back home …. My boyfriend took me and bought me a gun … it still wasn’t enough. I could not overcome the fear.” After getting a German shepherd, that fear started to subside, but Redd still felt “so overwhelmed” and called the Directions! team.
At the trial, “there wasn’t any evidence. It was my word against his. He was convicted. The judge gave him 10 years because he openly admitted to coming into my home without being welcomed.”
Redd observed of the volunteers who rallied around her, “These ladies were strangers, but they still reached out to me when I needed someone the most …. I’ll never forget you. I love you tremendously.”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.