Posting an awareness decal on the Adair County Courthouse door are, from left: Domestic Violence Court Advocate Leslie Colantuono, Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate Chandra Hudson, and Adair County Deputy Sheila Lopez.

Chandra Hudson, a sexual assault survivor advocate with Help in Crisis, has served in her position for a year and a half, and she’s very passionate about helping and empowering survivors.

“We are here and we can help, and we believe our victims,” said Hudson.

Helping survivors find their voices is life-changing and empowering.

“There are times when they don’t have a voice. We’re not their voice, but we give them a voice so they know they matter and can become strong, independent, and happy,” said Hudson.

The Adair County HIC staff provides a peer-to-peer group, said Hudson.

“It's so they know they’re not alone. It’s a support group. Some have been survivors a long time and some are recent,” Hudson said.

New in the position since August, HIC Domestic Violence Court Advocate Leslie Colantuono wanted to get involved in a field where she can help people. She’s worked at the Adair County Sheriff’s Office and was a reserve officer a short time, and also worked in the court clerk's office for three years.

“This is a different perspective. At that end, there are tickets and citations; at this end, we’re called to the emergency room and are able to talk to them and let them know we have options available to help. If they want to file a protection order or leave [the abuser], we can help them,” said Colantuono.

Domestic violence and sexual assault are both are very prevalent in Adair County, said Hudson.

“However, what we find more and more is that victims are afraid to come forward. They are scared of their abusers, scared they won’t be believed, worried about finances. They believe the abuser when they say they will have the children removed, and the list goes on and on,” Hudson said.

She wants victims to know they will be taken seriously.

“I want them to know that we do believe, we are here to help, and that there is a better life to live – one of freedom, safety, and happiness – and we will help a victim or survivor find that life,” she said.

Anyone needing help or wanting to help someone can call the HIC hotline at 1-800-300-5321, or call any local emergency department, such as law enforcement, a hospital, etc. Those entities will put them in touch with HIC.

“If you are in a violent relationship, then create your own safety plan. When we are in a crisis situation, we don’t always think clearly, so having a plan laid out can help to protect yourself and your children,” Hudson said.

Keep legal documents – such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, car titles, passports, bank cards, etc. – in a place that is easily accessible to grab when leaving.

“Try to have a phone readily available at all times. Create a code word with family or friends so they know to call for help,” she said.

Hudson suggests identifying areas in the home that are easy to escape if a situation starts to escalate. Avoid rooms that do not have a second exit or a room that may have possible weapons.

“If the violence escalates in to physical abuse, then make yourself physically smaller by curling up in a ball, using your hands to protect your head and face,” said Hudson.

When most people hear the phrase "domestic violence," they automatically assume it is physical abuse.

“Domestic violence is control, sexual abuse, emotional, intimidation, isolation, verbal, coercion, threats, blaming, using male privilege, and economic abuse,” Hudson said.

How can women and teens be empowered to protect themselves?

“First off is to believe a victim or survivor, validate their situation, refrain from using terminology that would blame the victim, listen to them and provide support. Reduce their isolation and remember they are avoiding you because of their abuser, not because of them or you,” she said. “Oftentimes, we tend to tell them to leave or try and make decisions for them when that may not be the safest option at that time. Encourage the small steps they make and help them find options that are specific to their needs. Unless we have been through a domestic violent relationship, we may not fully understand why a victim will stay with an abuser, and they have many reasons why, so get informed and learn more about it."

Domestic violence does not only happen to women, either.

“We serve men as well. No matter who the victim is or what the circumstances are with domestic violence or sexual assault, we are here to help,” Hudson said.

A victim does not have to file a police report to receive HIC's services, and everything is kept confidential.

“The services we provide are emergency shelter when a victim is fleeing a violent relationship; we assist with obtaining protective orders and helping to maneuver through the court system; we become like a liaison between the victim and law enforcement or the district attorney's office; we assist with finding resources to meet the basic needs of the victim; we listen and support; we offer peer support groups or individual sessions; we will help create safety plans whether you are still in the home with your abuser or have left; and mainly, we believe,” Hudson said.

She added that HIC exists to break the cycle of violence for victims and their children through transformational care that seeks to educate and empower.

“If you or someone you know is in a domestic violent relationship, please contact us at 1-800-300-5321. If you would like to know how you can help, find ways to become more aware, plan or schedule for an advocate to speak about domestic violence or sexual assault, or make a donation to Help In Crisis, then call 918-456-0673 or visit www.helpincrisisinc.org,” she said.