BALOG COLUMN: PAR, victims face tough times
So this is what it looks like in the tri-county area with reduced staffing at People Against Rape:
Its office is in transition, with a physical space in downtown Charleston that's not quite operating yet. It will be less than a third of the size of the group's less-than-palatial former location in North Charleston. It is an office that “will not be staffed on any kind of a regular basis,” according to PAR board President Michael Roach.
An answering service picks up at the main number, 745-0411, which is also the crisis hotline. Yes, the number is staffed 24 hours a day by a professional call center, but not by counselors.
The PAR website lists only one staff member, who no longer works there. She is, in fact, one of the three staff members who recently filed a lawsuit against the organization for back wages.
And there's a continued plea for volunteers, because they are needed more than ever. They are the ones who take crisis calls and go with victims through their evidentiary exams in the emergency room.
There's a training session Wednesday and Friday mornings. To enroll, contact Vickey Cornelison Grant at 843-792-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The volunteers are the ones who are on the front lines, and they need help.
Filling the gaps
PAR is still committed to its cause, and still serving victims of sexual assault, Roach said.
And there are other services, other programs, though none as focused as PAR.
MUSC's Sexual Assault Nurse Awareness Program must surely be feeling PAR's absence.
The Charleston Police Department is going to launch a multi-faceted prevention effort, but that's still in the planning phase. Programs such as the Charleston County Sheriff's Office Victim/Witness Advocate and Charleston County Solicitor's Victim Assistance are there to provide help. Though they are there, as they should be, to offer help to all crime victims, not just victims of sexual assault.
All crime victims need help, but the very nature of sexual assault makes it unlike any other crime out there, the victim experience unlike anyone else's.
And PAR was there for them. They were helping adult victims of sexual assault, as well as child and adult victims of abuse. They had a presence at the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center. They had plans for expanded education and prevention efforts.
And all that is gone, for now.
Despite despair, hope
Alleged embezzlement at the organization by a former employee has cost the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars of operating funds and grant money.
But there's a whole lot more than money gone now:
The 38-year history that PAR had built in the community.
The careers of the staffers who lost their jobs.
Most importantly, a safety net, a security blanket that provided a small amount of comfort to rape victims.
And all this makes a tough time for the victims even tougher.
Can PAR be rebuilt, re-established? Hopefully. But it will take much longer to build back up than it did to tear down.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or email@example.com.