For many, October is a festive occasion marked by the changing of seasons, spooky fun and sweet treats. However, it also carries a sobering reminder that not everyone is so fortunate, and there are some in desperate need of help.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and two area advocates want victims as well as survivors to know there is hope.
In April 2020, Graves County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Aimee Clymer-Hancock created the Vulnerable Victim Unit (VVU), which she said is not unlike the more widely known Special Victims Unit, or SVU. The VVU focuses on the “aggressive prosecution of predators” in the physical and sexual abuse of children, crimes exploiting the elderly, human trafficking, sexual violence, and domestic violence related assaults or murders.
Because of the nature of these cases the unit specializes in, the VVU expects extreme trauma among the victims. As such, Clymer-Hancock and her colleagues work hard on “how to best communicate and support” the victims or survivors.
“We are patient with our victim/survivor, and we understand that we need to honor and respect their feelings as we navigate the criminal justice system,” she said. “We work diligently to meet our victims/survivors needs and help them on their path towards healing.”
To Clymer-Hancock, witnessing a victim face their abuser in court is “nothing short of heroic.” However, she understands that it is difficult reaching that point with many asking how she would “keep them safe.” It’s a hard question that to her the “lawyerly” answers do little to ease the victim’s fears. So, whenever she is asked that by victims with “fear so gripping that it seems to paralyze action,” she has a simple expression.
“I am in the room, too.” With that “genuine phrase” she acknowledges the victim’s fears, and that she would “voluntarily” place herself between said victim and their abuser in court.
“These words are a comfort, I believe, because it is a human response that tells the recipient you are not alone,” Clymer-Hancock said. “Whether your victim is seven or 37 years old, there is something universally comforting about being told that another human being is willing to face and fight what you fear the most.”
She is not alone in her mission to protect victims of abuse and bring their assailants to justice. Graves County Attorney and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Victim Advocate Lisa Adams was a Family Resource and Youth Services Center Program Coordinator at Carlisle County before becoming a Victim Advocate in May 2019. Helping others has always been a “passion” for her, and she wants victims to know that they can rely on her and others victims advocates as well.
“This is important because we can be a voice for the victims,” she said. “Some victims may feel no one cares about them, or believes them. We are here to listen to them tell their stories, and guide them through the legal process, and be there to support them.”
One of her important duties is referring the victim to a safe haven where they can be free from their abuser. Typically, that would be the Merryman House Domestic Violence Center where they would receive more resources to help them. If it turns out to not be a suitable fit, she will find them another.
Clymer-Hancock urges anyone who is in fear for their safety to call 911. For those that are not in immediate danger, and just need help escaping an abusive relationship, she again urges them to contact the Merryman House 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-800-585-2686. The institution provides “emergency shelter, counseling and legal advocacy for survivors.”
Additionally, there is Lotus, a sexual assault and children’s advocacy center that serves victims in Western Kentucky, which has its own 24-hour hotline (1-800-928-7273).
“These ladies work directly with victims of sexual violence offering forensic interviews services, emergent or by appointment, specialized counseling services and preparation for children who will face their abusers in a court of law,” Clymer-Hancock said.
Adams said there is also a national hotline available, which is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
“Victims need to know that they do matter.” Adams said. “This cycle must end.”