WAIC meets lawmakers in Charleston
CHARLESTON — Members of an area organization recently traveled to Charleston to raise awareness for efforts to prevent domestic and sexual violence.
Sara Fincham, Women’s Aid In Crisis victim advocate, and Donna Helmick, WAIC Tucker County outreach coordinator, participated in Thursday’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Awareness Day at the West Virginia Legislature.
“Domestic and Sexual Violence Awareness Day at the Legislature is really just an opportunity for the 14 licensed domestic violence programs and 12 rape crisis centers in our state to mobilize, be visible and be heard,” Fincham said.
“We at Women’s Aid in Crisis are a dual domestic violence/sexual assault program, so we are one of the 14 and one of the 12. So we really like to take advantage of the opportunity to go down to the Capitol, talk with our local representatives, thank them for their support and share survivor stories,” she continued.
WAIC has participated in the event for the entire decade it has been taking place.
“Awareness Day at the Legislature has been going on for over 10 years, and WAIC has been involved since the beginning,” Fincham said. “I myself have participated in three awareness day events, and find it exhausting but effective!”
“I have participated in two awareness day events and am proud to have represented our organization and our victims,” Helmick added.
Fincham said she believes that raising awareness both locally and at the state level is important because residents of many counties who have been victims of domestic or sexual violence don’t have access to services.
“The first reason that I would point out as to why it’s important at the state level is because not every county in West Virginia has access to services. For instance, there are 10 counties in our state that don’t have access to sexual assault services, so when we go to the Capitol for awareness day, that’s our opportunity to advocate for all the survivors in our state, especially the most vulnerable and at-risk,” Fincham said. “Second, our legislators have the power to make changes that directly affect not only our program, but the survivors we serve. In West Virginia, one in six women and one in 21 men will be victims of an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetimes, and we just want that to be on the forefront of their minds when they’re making decisions.
“Locally, we want people in the six counties that we serve — Randolph, Tucker, Barbour, Braxton, Upshur and Webster — to know that not only do we provide 24/7 services, but we are here to elevate their voices and carry their concerns to our coalitions and the Capitol,” she continued.
Delegate William “Bill” Hartman, D-Randolph, was one of many area delegates on hand for the event offering support to those attempting to raise awareness.
“Having support from our delegates and senators can be life-saving when we talk about survivors and the services we provide. Mr. Hartman has certainly been able to build a career in the Legislature and so has a lot of experience, expertise and valuable input,” Fincham said. “He was very knowledgeable about our program and asked us a lot of questions, and we appreciate that he cared and took the time to not only talk to us but publicly show his support in multiple ways.
“We also got to chat with Sen. Randy Smith, who also took the time to talk to us, praise the work that’s being done locally and offer his support,” she added. “We were glad we got to see him because we wanted to personally thank him for supporting Senate Bill 39, The Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights, which passed the Senate unanimously!”
“Having support from Mr. Hartman is important to our organization so we may better serve our clients and continue to support them in the future,” Helmick added.
Prior to the House session, Hartman invited Fincham and Helmick to take a picture with him in front of the domestic and sexual violence display that was set up. During the House floor session, he recognized them individually and as an organization in the gallery and pointed out the important work they do locally.
“It was a very pleasant surprise and we appreciated all he and Sen. Smith did for and with us yesterday,” Fincham said.
Locally, WAIC has done a number of things to help prevent sexual and domestic violence and also raise awareness.
“I think we definitely lead the way locally with what we see in our state, and we had proclamation signings for Stalking and Human Trafficking Awareness Month; we held a human trafficking awareness event; we wrote an article for the local newspaper about the #MeToo movement; we coordinate our local STOP and SART Teams (Services, Trainings, Officers, Prosecutors and Sexual Assault Response Team); we have certain services that are available any time, day or night, like our emergency hotline and shelter; and are also in the process of planning events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is in April,” Fincham said.
“As an Outreach office for WAIC, I participate with other organizations within Tucker County to raise awareness for Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” Helmick added. “I set up informational displays at various places throughout the county for each awareness month and also hold proclamation signings with Mayor (Dorothy) Judy and the city of Parsons. I participate in events that are hosted by various allied organizations so that I can help raise awareness of our organization and the life-saving services that we offer.”