Victims of abuse — especially in rural areas — often have fewer resources available to them, but two localities in the New River Valley are teaming up in an effort to change that.
The town of Pulaski and Giles County have applied for federal funding to open facilities for forensic nurses to conduct exams for victims of abuse. The project name is Safe Center of Southwest Virginia.
Giles responded to 347 calls last year in which victims could have used the services of forensic nurses, but less than 2 percent received that care, according to Bobby Lilly, Giles County’s commonwealth’s attorney.
According to the grant summary sheet, the town of Pulaski had nearly 300 calls regarding some form of abuse.
Lilly said that victims don’t get the immediate treatment or forensic analysis they need for a variety of reasons.
“They are often hesitant to go to hospitals because they are embarrassed or don’t want to run into people they know,” he said. “They also have not had time to process what has happened, or how they want to proceed.”
Additionally, facilities offering these services are not close by, leaving rural localities without law enforcement coverage when transporting victims to medical centers.
Those affected also don’t know whether they want to press charges, but evidence that may not be available to the naked eye or that would disappear by the time the victim is ready to move forward is key, Lilly said.
“If we have this evidence, it allows us to not rely solely on testimony from the victim or the accused,” he said.
The grant proposes locations in Giles and Pulaski that would give those affected the services and forensic exams needed in a safe and private setting.
Forensic nurse April Bennett, who helped with the grant process, said that in addition to exams, the facilities would provide victims with the resources or referrals they need whether it’s additional medical care, counseling services, etc.
“We want to be able to provide them with anything we can to help them on the road to recovery,” she said.
The funding requested is more than $750,000 with an additional $190,000 coming from the two localities in the form of building space and equipment that they already own.
The grant was turned in to the Department of Criminal Justice Services Tuesday, and a decision on how the funds will be distributed will be made May 9, according to Lilly, who is hopeful that the unique proposal will get the funding it needs.
“I don’t know how many applicants applied for the funds but I doubt anyone in the state submitted anything like our proposal,” he said.
If everything goes according to plan, the funds would become available to use July 1 and the Giles facility would open a few months after that as it already has a furnished space with much of the equipment needed. It would be located in the same building as the sheriff’s office in Pearisburg, Lilly said.
The facilities would likely not start out as 24/7 sites but that is the ultimate goal. In the meantime, on-call nurses would be available. Bennett, a forensic nurse of 16 years, hopes to work at the locations, although she said she would have to apply like any other candidate.
The Pulaski location would be ready July 1, 2020. Town Manager Shawn Utt said that the Pulaski site is on East Main Street and needs much more work done to it before it would be up and running.
The localities would have to reapply for the funding every few years, assuming that it is available, Lilly said.
Utt said that the facilities would be available to those outside of the two localities, but it would primarily service Giles and Pulaski residents.
Lilly is passionate about the project and stressed how it could empower victims to reclaim control of the situation.
“It’s not fair to make victims decide at the time how to press charges or whether to press charges, but the evidence has to be collected when it’s fresh and available,” Lilly said. “…Then the victim has time to decide whether they want to prosecute and we would have the evidence to move forward.”