One lone person remained at the North Charleston office of People Against Rape on Friday, answering the phones. Melonea Locklair, the former executive director, was the last paid employee left.
“It’s my last day,” she said.
After five years as director and 20 years assisting the nonprofit organization, Locklair couldn’t hold back the tears as she spoke of her departure.
“This is all very upsetting,” she said. “This place has had my heart for many, many years.”
Locklair was removed from her position as director last week following the announcement that PAR leaders had discovered financial irregularities at the nonprofit group.
PAR lost $300,000 in state grant funding after realizing $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 has said.
Board members have blamed a former employee, who has since left the organization.
While Roach said he didn’t believe Locklair had anything to do with the financial troubles, he decided to remove her as director because he felt it could be a conflict of interest while an audit was under way, he said last week.
S.C. Department of Public Safety representatives said PAR has to complete an audit before the state agency can even consider reinstating its funding.
State Law Enforcement Division agents are now conducting a preliminary inquiry to determine whether an investigation is warranted. North Charleston police are already conducting an investigation.
PAR board members laid off 11 employees last week and the remaining two on Friday.
“It’s going to be a long, hard process, I’m keeping my faith we’ll be better for it,” Roach said.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she hates to see sexual assault victims lose the support PAR has been offering for nearly three decades.
PAR’s advocates typically assisted victims from the time they called the office or showed up at the emergency room, through the criminal justice process, and even after it was over. They also assisted those who wished not to prosecute.
“We can handle the cases,” Wilson said. “My concern is we’ll get fewer cases to get prosecuted.”
Without a steady support system immediately following the assault, Wilson said more women may opt out of prosecuting.
“Without that support, many women especially feel it’s not worth it,” Wilson said.
The solicitor said she is comforted by the strength of the Medical University’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program. It provides specialty examiners who perform the forensic tests on victims following an assault.
“That gives me some hope. The SANE program moving so strongly in the right direction will soften the blow,” Wilson said. PAR advocates, who respond to all SANE crisis calls at the hospital, plan to continue providing that service on a volunteer basis, PAR representatives said.
Heather Woolwine, MUSC spokesperson, said the SANE service has not been affected. Anyone sexually assaulted can report to the emergency room for SANE treatment. PAR’s hotline is expected to also remain in service, staffed by volunteers.
Though volunteers will help bridge some gaps, PAR representatives worry that it will be difficult to maintain the agency’s full scope of services with no full-time employees in place.
On her last day, the sadness Locklair said she felt was overshadowed by a deeper pain.
“The most important people here are the victims,” Locklair said. “They’re upset and they want to know what’s going to happen, and I honestly don’t know what to tell them.”
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.