Rape is a violent crime, one that doesn't often occur in McDuffie and surrounding rural counties. However, when it happens, it's beneficial to have specially-trained counselors and medical staff who understand how to help the victim through such a traumatic experience.
That's where counselors with the Rape and Sexual Assault Services step in to assist.
Such a counseling service is starting anew at McDuffie Regional Medical Center in Thomson. The goal is to have the service available by July 1.
Four area volunteers are involved in extensive training classes -- one of which was held at the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center in Thomson last week -- to understand specifically what their roles will be when such a terrible crime is reported to authorities.
During last week's classes, volunteers heard from officials with the Rape and Sexual Assault Services, as well as law enforcement officers and those who handle the prosecution of rape and other sexual related crimes, including those involving children. On the crime front, Pat Morgan and Charles Kicklighter, both special agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Region 7 Office in Thomson, talked with them. They also heard from Toombs Judicial Circuit Chief Assistant District Attorney Durwood Davis and Marie Johnson, the victims' assistance coordinator.
Anne Ealick-Henry, director of Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services in Augusta, along with Charlotte Murton, a crisis specialist, Dinah Gunn, who serves as volunteer coordinator and Ali Mays, an intern -- all of whom work with the agency, addressed a variety of important topics with the in-training counselors.
McDuffie County Sheriff's Department Major Ronnie Williamson said he believes the program will be greatly benefit rape and other sexual assault victims when such crimes occur in McDuffie and surrounding counties.
"You hope there's never the need for them to be called out, but if a rape occurs, it's good to know they have the kind of training that's going to help not only the victim, but those of us in law enforcement and the prosecutor's office as we work to bring the person responsible for the crime to justice," Maj. Williamson said.
The four women being trained are known simply by their first names: Lisa, Angie, Pam and Karen.
The new Rape and Sexual Assault Services program already has received a warm invitation from officials at McDuffie Regional Medical Center.
"As always, McDuffie Regional Medical Center strives to meet the needs of our community," says Peggy Seaman Barmore, a registered nurse, CNE at the local hospital. "This is another resource we can and will provide. Our staff will be trained to assist in collecting the appropriate information and evidence, meeting our professional and community responsibility to both the victim/patient and law enforcement."
Mrs. Barmore said she first learned of the interest in a rape crisis program coming to the medical facility about a month ago. Since then, medical personnel have been made aware of the new program and still are undergoing training, she added.
Mrs. Ealick-Henry, who has worked with the Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services for more than 20 years, is most versed in what advocacy counselors need to know about helping victims of such violent crimes.
She said her agency received a grant for $55,000 to expand services to other areas of east central Georgia.
The grant was awarded by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
The service in Thomson will benefit any victim/patient that comes into the emergency room of McDuffie Regional Medical Center after being raped or sexually assaulted, said Mrs. Ealick-Henry. The counties that use the local hospital include: Warren, Glascock, Jefferson, Taliaferro, Lincoln and Wilkes.
"We are offering this as a community-wide service," said Mrs. Ealick-Henry, noting that it involves residents from any county that happen to use the emergency room services of the local hospital.
For more information, call the Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services in Augusta at 706-774-2730 or their 24-hour hot line number, 706-724-5200.