Local Nonprofit Serves Victims of Sexual, Domestic and Physical Violence
Writer / Julie Yates
Photographer / Brandi Caplinger
ASSIST Indiana serves people of all ages who have been directly or indirectly affected by sexual and physical violence. ASSIST is an acronym for Advocacy, Specialized Services, Interventions and Support to Trauma victims. The organization provides crucial services locally and in surrounding areas. It serves as the rape crisis center for Johnson and the surrounding counties, oversees the Johnson County Child Advocacy Center in collaboration with the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office, and facilitates the Johnson County Sexual Assault Response Team.
Founded and now directed by Jenny Lee, MSN, NP-C, SANE-A, its services are free and anything offered is optional. ASSIST provides trauma therapy, support groups, community resource referrals, crisis intervention, victim advocacy, case management and prevention education. This spring, through a grant from the Indiana Department of Health and funds raised by the current class of Leadership Johnson County, the organization will be able to provide forensic medical exams. Presently, if the victim is a child, only Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis or a location in Bloomington can provide these exams. Children are required to abstain from eating, drinking or using the bathroom prior to the procedure, and often have had to endure a two- to four-hour waiting time before being seen.
“I’m a nurse practitioner by trade and I came from Eskenazi Health,” Lee says. “I founded ASSIST because I continued to see victims take a back seat for many reasons. Things get missed, there is disbelief from other family members, or victims question if the abuse or incident was in their own head. As a forensic nurse, I testified as an eyewitness to injuries seen. Sometimes the victim and I would end up in the elevator with, or be parked two cars over from, the perpetrator who just got a light sentence. It is a hit to someone’s self-esteem when they have exhausted the health-care and court system.”
“Help comes out of the woodwork if someone is hit by a bus,” Lee continues. “Everyone sees it and everyone calls for help. It’s public knowledge and there is nothing to be ashamed about. Here, if someone is the victim of physical violence or sexual abuse, there is nothing outwardly to see. No one asks how the healing is going. The goal of ASSIST is to provide a seamless, one-stop place for services to help victims heal.”
Services provided include individual counseling and support groups. Every victim is unique with differing needs, values and goals, so each treatment plan is tailored individually with input from the patient. Support groups are available even for those who are still suffering from an incident in the past, as evidenced by reoccurring nightmares or exhaustion.
Other facets of ASSIST are victim advocacy as well as prevention and education. Besides connecting individuals with resources and programs within the community and state, advocates can assist with filing a protective order, either electronically or in person at the courthouse. In addition, ASSIST provides free training for an adult program from Darkness to Light called Stewards of Children, as well as Think First & Stay Safe for children from kindergarten to 12th grade.
ASSIST only uses highly trained professionals to work directly with victims and families, but they are always in need of volunteers. They never turn down someone’s time, talent or treasure. People can be used to answer a phone, sit in an informational fundraising booth, or even do practical tasks like yard work or pro bono law work. It is also important for the organization to keep discretionary funds on hand for emergencies that might arise in a time of family crisis.
“It hasn’t always been an easy road,” Lee says. “Many people think that because we are a nonprofit, we get all the funds we need from grants, but grants get cut every year. Their purpose is to get an organization up and started, but our need is ongoing. COVID put us in crisis. It allowed kids to be in the homes of perpetrators. There was no outlet for help. Victims couldn’t leave or have anyone to confide in such as a school counselor or best friend. Violence is a health-care issue. It is a constant crisis that just doesn’t come and go. It is all the time.”
ASSIST Indiana is located at 198 East Jefferson Street in Franklin. For more info, call 317-739-4456 or visit assistindiana.org.