Local help available to domestic violence/sexual assault survivors

Jeff Guy
Volunteers gather at a domestic violence/sexual assault awareness event at Southwestern College last year. A similar event cannot be held this year due to COVID-19. October is Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center’s Sumner County office, 204 S. Washington Ave., in Wellington, had to close its office last March with the onset of COVID-19.

Its doors reopened in August, but had to close again temporarily due to a positive COVID case that affected one of its staff, but the office is expected to reopen to the public, possibly on Oct. 19, Kami Dobbs, director of outreach counties for the center, said.

Throughout the COVID ordeal, the WASAC has continued providing services to survivors over the phone and through online platforms like zoom and doxy me, for those who had access to and were interested in online services, Dobbs said.

“It absolutely is easier to provide services when you can work with a survivor face to face in most situations,” Dobbs said. “However, the pandemic allowed us to be more forward thinking in the way in which we provide services and some of the barriers we really had not thought about before.

“In searching ways to be accessible to survivors we realized there are online platforms that are safe and confidential which may allow even more survivors to reach out for help and support.”

The office has put precautions in place to be as safe as possible, Dobbs said. Staff are required to wear masks and have their temperatures checked each morning at the door. They are also asking anyone who enters their offices to wear face masks and the WASAC has those readily available to give out to anyone who may be in need, Dobbs said.

There is signage in the offices, asking people to comply with wearing face masks and reminding them to socially distance. Staff has marked off 6 feet of space in certain areas of the offices, to help with establishing a safe distance between people.

Sumner County advocates are: Haley Nickelson and Monica DeCoudres. Kay Cartee is our therapist for sexual assault survivors and she works in both counties and I am the Director of Outreach Counties and work in both counties as well.

“I cannot say we have seen a rise in domestic violence as a direct result of COVID,” Dobbs said. “I have read and seen reports to that effect in other parts of the US but here in our local communities we have not seen a huge increase in calls.”

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been an increase in domestic violence or sexual assault happening in our communities though, she said.

“We have to keep in mind that someone who has been experiencing domestic or sexual violence during the pandemic may not have been able to safely reach out for help,” Dobbs said. “If suddenly your abusive spouse has been forced to work at home due to the pandemic, when can you call for help or connect with an advocate without them knowing?”

Lately, the center has been hearing more from people experiencing financial hardships not directly related to sexual or domestic violence, Dobbs said.

The 24-hour hotline for the Wellington branch of the WASAC is (620) 440-3700.

“We are here to provide a variety of services based on what each individual needs and most importantly our services are free and confidential,” Dobbs said.

The center’s services include but are not limited to, safety planning, supportive/crisis counseling, law enforcement advocacy, medical advocacy, court advocacy, educational programming and support groups. There is also a bilingual (Spanish speaking) advocate available and a therapist for sexual assault survivors.

“I certainly believe the work our advocates do in this community is invaluable,” Dobbs said.