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Balloon release in Hayneville honors sexual assault victims

By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

The Family Service/Family Guidance Center of Lowndes County partnered with the Family Sunshine Center in Hayneville on Thursday, April 4 to recognize April as “Sexual Assault Awareness Month.”

The two agencies showed honor and support for victims and survivors of sexual assault with a balloon release at the Lowndes County Courthouse Square.

Camellia Bradford, a rural sexual assault counselor with the Family Sunshine Center in Hayneville, said the agencies offer services to people who have been victimized by sexual assault. And she said she is in Hayneville every Thursday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. at the Family Guidance Center.

Also represented was STAR (Stranding Together Against Rape), another Family Sunshine Center partner.

Evania Norman, SRTAR program supervisor at Family Sunshine Center, said, “If a client has had a rape, an assault, they would contact the STAR office, and we would meet with that client for forensic examinations so they can gather evidence that could be used in court.” Also with Norman was STAR Advocate Terria Herron.

Representing the Family Service/Family Guidance Center was Hayneville site director Gwendolyn Patterson.

Bradford, who kicked things off at the balloon release, said the event was held to help bring awareness to the community that services are offered at the Family Service Center along with the Family Guidance Center to help anyone who has been assaulted or abused.

She each year some 321,000 people are sexually assaulted or abused throughout the United States. And, she said, “Our goal is to let them know it is okay to report and that they have people behind them that are here to support them when reporting to law enforcement, counselors or family members.”

Patterson said the Family Guidance Center in Hayneville, in partnership with the Family Sunshine Center, provides weekly support classes and a safe haven for clients to come in and talk. She also said that while Bradford is present on Thursdays, services are offered every day of the week to residents of Hayneville and Lowndes County.

Norman of STAR said if a sexual assault victim calls their crisis line, within 72 hours, “We will set up an appointment for that person to get the forensic exam done.” She said there are also a STAR representative, a qualified nurse on staff and counselors who are there to support the client “so they don’t have to feel that they are all alone.”

Norman said, “Sexual assault is something that affects a person’s whole, entire life. It affects their outlook. It affects how they look at themselves number one, how they look at the world, how they look at their family members, how they look at men, how they look at God, how they look at their future. And many times, clients who experience sexual assault don’t know what to do because they blame themselves as if they are the ones who did something wrong and it was something wrong that was done to them.”

She said, “And our program is here to help them to understand that they are not at fault. We are here to help them realize there are people who can help them move forward step by step. It’s not going to be overnight. But we are here for the long haul.”