Last Tuesday evening I skipped book club to attend a program hosted by the Seaside Branch of the American Association of University Women held at Beach Books. The topic was domestic violence and sex crimes, subjects that have captured my journalistic interest for a very long time.
The meeting was a “get-acquainted” get-together. Following opening remarks by Cindy Gould, AAUW’s local chapter president, Shannon Symonds, author of the novel, “Safe House” and part-time advocate of domestic and sexual assault victims was introduced. Symonds was joined by Seaside’s Mayor Jay Barber, an advisor for Shared Hope International, an organization dedicated to ending sex trafficking.
Symonds, who by day is the outreach manager for the Foster Club in Seaside, said she became a domestic violence advocate years ago after working at Head Start.
There are two types of abusers, Symonds said. One is a “cycler,” a person whose triggers are known and who almost predictably goes off the rails; the second and more deadly type is the abuser who often has no prior documented history of abuse. “There may have been no red flags,” she said.
These abusers are power motivated and are control junkies. “They are the ones who are most likely to commit a homicide,” Symonds said. The most dangerous time for the victim is when she decides to leave.
Symonds said victims least likely to seek help are women of means. “The more you have to lose, the less you will tell,” she said. Maintaining personal privacy is the primary reason victims don’t report; there is also concern the abuser may lose his job and stature in the community. Victims in these cases rarely report abuse or follow through to press charges when police become involved. That’s because they love their abuser and keep hoping for the best. These victims customarily play down the severity of the abuse, claiming even serious injuries as minor.
Barber told the audience I-5 is the principal thoroughfare for sex trafficking in this part of the country. “It’s a hotbed,” he said. He spoke of his work with Shared Hope, an organization offering legal counsel to victims, and boosts initiatives such as the Protected Innocence annual report on state child sex trafficking laws and Traffic Stop, which examines state agency responses to trafficking. Sex trafficking, Barber said, is America’s fastest growing crime. He quoted an expert on the subject who called trafficking “the new slavery.”
In Oregon, to target victims, traffickers use social networks that appeal to teens. Victims tend to be 14-16 years of age, although girls as young as 9 have been known to be trafficked. Many victims, and they are not all female, are victims of prior sexual abuse, are in foster care, or are runaways. He cautioned people shouldn’t think sex trafficking can’t happen in Seaside.
Symonds said no shelter or safe house currently is in operation in Clatsop County for victims and their children of sex abuse or domestic violence. More money, she said, has been raised or allocated to animal shelters. But the need for a human shelter in this area is very real.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. “If we can help one person at a time,” Symonds said, “That’s a victory.”