By Rama Sobhani
Hope’s Voice is a Vincennes and Daviess County based service that gives assistance to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as well as offering counseling services.
Now in its fifth year of operation, the organization was started under the umbrella of the Children and Family Services with a grant from the Knox County Community Foundation. It has since expanded its presence into many avenues that domestic violence and sexual assault victims might find themselves, including local law enforcement, the Knox County prosecutor’s office and Vincennes University. Hope’s Voice is mostly volunteer-driven though there is some regular staff.
Cathy Bush and Miriam Sonderborg are two of those staff who are there when victims make first contact with Hope’s Voice. Bush is a 20-plus year veteran of working with abuse victims around the country and wound up back in her native city, Vincennes. Sonderborg has also worked around the U.S. for over 20 years after leaving her native country, Guatemala. She has been working with Hope’s Voice for almost two years and is the head of the nascent Daviess County branch of the organization.
Cathy Bush: We do a lot of awareness activities, we go to events. Miriam’s made a brochure we give out. Our main funding is from the Victims of Crime Act, (a federal law, which established a fund to assist victims of domestic and sexual abuse) but we’re always searching for other grant opportunities and we have a fundraiser in February called Dining for Hope. We do that because we have a match we have to meet for our grant. For being so new, only five years, I think we’re doing quite well.
Miriam Sonderborg: This community has been really amazing, we find people who are truly, truly givers. They know our mission and they help.
Bush: We only have four staff members here and we don’t have the resources. It’s difficult for us to try to help people, so we rely on our community and other nonprofits to help us.
We respond to our police department, as well. If they have a victim at the scene, they do a lethality assessment and they call us to go out to the scene or to the police station and we talk with the victim, give them our number and tell them they can come meet with us. (Good Samaritan Hospital) also calls us for any sexual assault and domestic assault victims.
We have an agreement with the prosecutor’s office, we get those cases referred here and we follow up with those victims and help them along the way.
Both Bush and Sonderborg talk about the cycle of violence and abuse — the idea that the behavior is learned and perpetuated through generations.
Bush: I think it’s definitely a lot of work for someone to change to break that cycle with the abuser. (Abusers) definitely need to go through some treatment for that. Anger management won’t help them, it’s not about controlling anger. There is Batterer’s Intervention to help them understand and get control over what’s happened to them in their past.
Sonderborg: They’re making a choice and using their background to justify their choice to abuse.
Bush: (People involved in domestic violence) have come in and asked me, “I’m fighting back, am I an abuser?” We ask them if they did it for power and control and if they say no, then we say it was for self-defense, for survival, to keep themselves safe. This is a conflict sometimes for us to work with both the abused and the abuser, so we’ve sent some to get treatment elsewhere.
Bush and Sonderborg spend a good deal of time talking about human trafficking, another problem that Hope’s Voice staffers are seeing with more frequency recently. Sonderborg has worked recently with several victims of trafficking.
Sonderborg: Human trafficking is something everybody talks about but few actually know what it is. It’s something people think only happens in Third World countries. It happens in our back yard. Vincennes has seen more and more in the last few years, we’ve had three or four victims. It’s here and we just have to make sure we’re educated on how to identify these victims and knowing what to do.
Bush: Some people get human smuggling and human trafficking mixed up. Smuggling is when you smuggle people across a border to other areas, trafficking is the selling of people into slavery, usually for sex.
Sonderborg: In the case of the survivor I’m working with now, she came to me far along in the process, so whenever she was apprehended by police, they interviewed her and she was very hesitant. She said the police had been bought. That’s what she said, and that some of the police in that community were seeking her services. She said when she was apprehended that the police were quick to say, “Now, remember, don’t say anything. We know where your family lives, we have your child.” She was very hesitant to say anything at all. Luckily for her, there was an advocate from a crisis center who came in and started talking to her over the course of several days and she started revealing a little bit more, a little bit more and finally, the police brought her pictures and she started identifying a few of these traffickers.
She was taken to the crisis center and the police then went to arrest several of these men, but, of course, this is an empire. The people the police arrested were just small fish, pawns.
Bush: She has so much trauma that she’s suffered, both mental and physical. Miriam’s helped her find resources that she needs now.
Sonderborg: The other victim was a 17-year-old … actually she was brought here from Japan with the promise of going to school with the promise of being on this mission. She had handmade jewelry that she was selling. We identified the fact that she had been trafficked. We knew there was a van that was circling around town, that’s how she got transported. It had tinted windows and she had to be in a certain place by a certain time. They were out from seven o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock at night. So…the police picked her up, they talked to her and she was a very pleasant young girl. Whatever you asked her, she would answer you and she answered the same thing over and over again. So, (the police) took her to the station and talked to her. They asked her for her documents and she said I don’t have my documents but I have a copy of them. They asked her where her originals were and she said, “My captain has them.” That’s what they call those people.
She said that when she came to the country, the captain took her documents. The police called her family in Japan, they spoke with her father and he actually said the same story (about a mission trip and school). He answered the same way his daughter did. There was nothing the police could do, they had to let her go. She was picked up and they left town. We never saw them again.
She didn’t at all (know she was being held captive). She was just in the very early stages. I don’t know what happened to her.
On coping personally with the often traumatic conditions of the people they help.
Sonderborg: It’s very hard to separate. If you are someone that is going to work with people, it’s very hard to separate. Especially if you are passionate about what you do. That’s why we have to do a lot of self-care. Whatever you can do to make sure you don’t think about the bad things that happened to people, whether it’s go for a walk, with your pets, whatever that lets you take a breath. Whatever you can to get you to the place that you get to the next place where you can make a difference and it makes it worth it.
For more information on Hope’s Voice, visit its Facebook page: Hope’s Voice