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Ohio launches trauma recovery network for victims of violent crime

Ohio will follow California as the second state to offer a network of support services to victims of violent crime, including sexual assault and human trafficking, in a partnership between hospitals and victim services agencies.

The announcement of a $2.6 million grant divided among five agencies came Tuesday from Attorney General Mike DeWine at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, a recipient.

“What we’re really about is not just making sure the physical damage that’s been done to these victims is treated and dealt with,” DeWine said. “Domestic violence victims may leave hospitals physically intact but sometimes mentally broken.”

The partnerships awarded were Ohio State’s STAR Program and the Wexner Medical Center (receiving $839,335), the Circle Health Services and University Hospitals of Cleveland ($545,363), the May Dugan Center and MetroHealth of Cleveland ($545,363), the Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital ($125,685), and the CitiLookout and Springfield Regional Medical Center ($171,963).

The trauma recovery centers will be staffed with advocates who provide counseling and assistance with immediate needs such as food, clothing and housing. Depending on individual circumstances, treatment will continue after the victim leaves the hospital, in the form of substance abuse treatment, specialized sexual assault or domestic violence counseling, legal advocacy and spiritual guidance, officials said.

Victims in underserved, vulnerable populations such as those who are homeless, living in poverty or are chronically mentally ill or disabled, are especially in need of a support network, DeWine said. Advocates will provide transportation to and from appointments, help victims apply for the Victim of Crime Compensation Program and provide support to victims’ families.

“Often, the victims of violent crime have been surrounded by violence throughout their entire lives,” DeWine said. “And then, the trauma compounds. It is my hope that the support provided by these trauma recovery centers across Ohio will also help victims overcome emotional scars from their past, which can help of course prevent future victimization.”

Heather Andrews, a sexual assault survivor who met with DeWine in May to share her story, was assaulted in her home in July of 2015. Her case is currently unsolved.

“I felt as though I was the only one who felt my case was top priority,” Andrews said. “I learned very quickly that these cases are not solved like they are on popular television shows.”

Anxiety, trouble sleeping, fear and the inability to leave her home were some side effects Andrews experienced after her assault.

“Instead of continuing to be a victim, I became a victor,” Andrews said of getting help. “The trauma and recovery centers will continue to aid and increase resources for underserved families. Although I wasn’t sure of the outcome of the meeting in May, I now know that it was the first step in healing for all Ohioans.”

Lenore Anderson, president of California’s Alliance for Safety and Justice organization, which provided assistance in developing Ohio’s trauma recovery network, said victims face invisible barriers.

“Ohio joins a small but growing number of states who are developing new approaches to serving victims of crime

and those are trauma recovery centers,” Anderson said. “These centers address an overlooked and missing approach to victims of crime, and that’s addressing the emotional trauma that too many victims experience long after the incidence of crime has occurred.”

The University of California at San Francisco and UCSF Medical Center launched a similar trauma recovery program in 2012, after which Ohio’s network is modeled. The San Francisco program reports a 74 percent improvement in overall patient mental health and a 56 percent increase in victims returning to employment.

Kat Tenbarge is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.

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