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Survivor Stories

Not Always Paradise -John Pfeifer

I walked along Kaanapali Beach very early on a Tuesday morning last month.. The sun was rising on the east side of the island, fewer than ten hours after I had experienced my first magnificent Maui sunset on the island’s western shore. I was – as always – on my way to Starbucks.

Later that same day, after a short mostly vertical drive to the 10,023 foot summit in Haleakala National Park, I found myself looking down into the crater floor from high above the clouds. The views – whether obscured by clouds or not – were delightfully different than any I had experienced before. And only hours after my early morning 75 degree beach walk, the wind was blowing, and the temperature was a brisk 53 degrees. Shorts and a sweatshirt, my preferred attire, were the order of the day.

Everything was perfect. I was – to be certain – in paradise.

Only five days later, the hiking paths in Haleakala were closed after a female backpacker was assaulted as she descended towards the crater floor, several hundred yards below where I had hiked the previous Tuesday through the Hawaiian “paradise”. Attempts to find the alleged perpetrator were unsuccessful.

As I read the story online, two links caught my attention and I clicked away, shortly discovering the following:
• Last week a Maui police officer – commander of the Criminal Investigation Division – resigned from his position after an internal investigation concluded he committed fourth degree sexual assault last summer when he touched the buttocks of a female subordinate several times during a one-week period.

• In April, a man was convicted of two counts of assault and faces a 10-year sentence after pinning his wife’s throat to the ground with his forearm and threatening her with a large kitchen knife. This happened while the couple was camping, also in the “paradise” that is Haleakala National Park.

Now it’s safe to say – with apologies to sunrise at Garden of the Gods or the splendor of last August’s solar eclipse – that our local landmarks are referred to as paradise with far less frequency than the mountains, waterfalls or beaches of Maui. And yet in that “paradise”, domestic violence and sexual assault occur.

In southern Illinois, sexual and domestic violence occurs far too frequently.

In Franklin, Gallatin, Jackson, Johnson, Perry, Saline, Union and Williamson counties, The Survivor Empowerment Center is the only agency that supports, encourages, advocates for and provides safe shelter for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

We’ve been doing so since 1972.

Last year we assisted 209 survivors of sexual assault, provided 7,283 nights of safe shelter and an additional 3,650 nights of transitional housing. We took over 9,000 Hotline calls, assisted in obtaining 638 Orders of Protection and served 212 children and over 1100 adults with domestic violence care, advocacy and counseling.

And yet each of these numbers is more than a mere statistic; each relates to an individual person with an individual story. We likely met them for the first time at the deepest, darkest moment of their life. They don’t expect paradise and we don’t promise it.

But those that are hurt deserve a safe place to heal, and those who have been victims deserve the time and a place to become survivors. To live, not just exist. They deserve a chance to experience hope.

If you’d like to help – as a volunteer or through a financial contribution – we would love to hear from you and enlist you as a partner in providing that hope. Give us a call at 618-549-4807.

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