People Against Rapes troubles put its mission at risk
If a local rape crisis agency folds due to financial difficulties, rape victims could be left in the dark.
Without People Against Rape, victims would lose specialized counseling, guidance through the legal process and a comforting hand during forensic exams. Trying to survive, the board has already made changes, including the removal of one of its leaders.
The prospect of losing PAR makes some cringe, including one West Ashley woman, who wanted to be identified only as Cindy.
PAR’s existence provided her with help and hope following her rape in 1993. She would have been alone during her hospital examination following the assault, if not for the agency. She recalled a representative from the organization walking into her room while she lay in the bed.
“I don’t remember too much about her because I was still in a haze,” Cindy said. “But I remember she said, ‘I’m here to hold your hand through this.’”
That support went a long way for Cindy, who said PAR helped her get up in the morning and install alarms at her business, where the assault had taken place. Now, PAR is in need of support.
The possibility of the organization’s demise is looming over the board since the discovery of financial irregularities. So far it has cost the agency about $300,000 in grant money since it was discovered that $60,000 to $80,000 in rent and tax bills had never been paid but had still been submitted for reimbursement to the state agencies, board Chairman Michael Roach said. Board members blame a former employee, who has since left the agency.
The former employee had been working for the agency for several years. In January 2011, Vickey Cornelison-Grant became treasurer and noticed some red flags. Her experience as a grants manager for the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center had helped her uncover irregularities in PAR’s records.
Cornelison-Grant said she became suspicious in February 2011 when the check register didn’t make sense. Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, PAR board member and founder said the employee was evasive about providing the information Cornelison-Grant had requested.
“About two days later, the employee left without even coming back to the office to get her personal effects,” Kirkpatrick said.
Roach said he tracked down the employee in Florida, where she had moved and she denied any wrongdoing, he said. No charges have been filed in the case which is being investigated by North Charleston Police and the Internal Revenue Service.
Board members said they’ve been left picking up the pieces. They’ve had to lay off 11 employees because of the grant losses from the S.C. Department of Public Safety and the Department of Health and Environmental Control, which suspended their funding until the agency is able to account for everything.
In the meantime, the board began making moves, including removing of Melonea Locklair from her position as executive director. She is currently still working for PAR, helping with victim’s services coordination. Roach said the move was in the best interest of the organization but does not believe Locklair had anything to do with the missing money.
“People are going to be coming in doing audits and if someone is still there that has access to that, it just creates a cloud that’s not fair,” he said.
Locklair did not wish to comment on her removal as director and referred all questions to board chairman Michael Roach.
PAR will not receive a penny of the agencies’ grants, at least until an audit is completed and reported to the agencies. PAR board members said they’ve already commissioned the audit.
Roach admits better oversights need to be put in place but said it was too early to speculate on the changes. On Friday afternoon, Rep. Wendell Gilliard and Rep. Chip Limehouse of Charleston met with Roach and Cornelison-Grant in an attempt to help the agency raise the necessary funds to stay open. Board members are expect to make a presentation to the Charleston Legislative Delegation during their meeting next week. Both legislators said PAR was a necessary piece of the community.
The assault problem
According to the 2010 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting, 63 forcible rapes were reported to law enforcement in the tri-county area. PAR leaders said they serve about 1,000 sexual assault victims a year, far out numbering the number of reported assaults. Since law enforcement victim advocates are only available to victims reporting crimes, PAR served the large number of women who opted out of pressing charges.
PAR is one of 15 local sexual assault advocacy programs around the state. Pamela Jacobs, S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault said that because the program has been so strong, it’s critical that it sticks around.
Representatives from PAR also respond to the Medical University when a victim undergoes a forensic exam after an assault. Kathy Gill-Hopple, coordinator of the adult Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program said she’s been assured advocates will continue responding to the hospital. She is worried though that some in the public will correlate PAR’s services with its own.
“It concerns me that people will think we’re left without anything and so they may not seek us out,” Gill-Hopple said.
Anyone who wishes to have an examination due to a sexual assault can still visit MUSC’s emergency department. A victim is not required to file a report with law enforcement.
Changes for PAR
The agency’s founder, Dean Kilpatrick, who is now director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at MUSC, recalls the agency beginning with no money in 1974. Now PAR is again operating under shoestring conditions, equipped with a phone line, some volunteers and the determination to support victims.
“In some ways it’s daunting, because you know there’s such a hill to climb, but you know you’ve been able to climb it in the past,” he said.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5560 or Twitter.com/ncaula.