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Fran Ross : Empowering victims while creating survivors

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story by Cindy Burbage     photos by Shelia Scott
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and the Effingham Victim-Witness Assistant Program will hold their Candlelight Vigil honoring survivors of domestic violence, local partners, and supporters. This year they are adding a twist: a silent auction and raffle. The event will be held on Friday, October 19th at 5:30pm at Rincon First Baptist Church. This function will have dinner and chances to win prizes. The auction and raffle items include: coolers, grills, a Go-Pro and a number of gift baskets from professional hair products to home décor. The organization plans to make this fundraiser an annual event.
In February 2018, Fran Ross was officially appointed Executive Director of the agency after having served as Administrative Assistant for years. But she isn’t new to this office. “My mom, Julia Cochran, has volunteered here as a counselor for over twenty years, I basically grew up coming to this office. It seemed like a right fit for me and my beliefs.
This is the most gratifying job I have had other than working with children. When you are able to give and do for people it’s kind of a WWJD (what would Jesus do) kind of thing and that’s how we run; not that we are a religious organization.  You know it’s like what would Jesus do in this situation. Would He help this person? Can we provide food or clothing for this person? What does person need? How can we assist? And that is why we are here. We are here to help people start over and become independent and empowered; live a fulfilling healthier lifestyle. That is our mission,” Fran passionately explained.
Fran Ross, explained the array of services the program offers, “The primary service we perform is the temporary protection order or TPO. This is an order that states that an individual cannot come within 500 yards of you and cannot have any contact what so ever, including a third-party contact.   These are usually good for up to a year. We also offer professional counseling referrals for victims; we have a few counselors within our community that help with this.  Court accompaniments is another service we provide along with pro bono attorney services. We will go to court with clients to give them the support that they need, and on the second court appearance, the individual will have an attorney by their side as well.”
With a 24-hour crisis hotline and an emergency fund for those in need, Effingham County Victim-Witness Assistance Program is ready to help. They are affiliated with Safe Haven in Statesboro; a shelter for those who have suffered from domestic violence and need safety. Victim-Witness can transfer the victim securely and discreetly to the shelter. For a complete list of services offered by the victim assistance program, please visit their website: www.effinghamvwap.org
This assistance program is a 501c3 non-profit organization that is financially supported by VOCA (Victims of Crime Act), 5% Funding and United Way contributions. The month of April is Crime Victim Awareness; Victim Witness raises awareness and funds with their annual Jeans for Justice Campaign. Local businesses and schools donate $1-$5 per person to wear jeans on Friday during Crime’s Victim week.
“When you are in a nonprofit organization it’s a lot of give me, give me, give me and not a lot of thank you, thank you, thank you. We are trying to combine an event that we can recognize and thank everybody for their continued support over the years plus try to get some income at the same time,” Fran gratefully expressed.
The agency works closely within its community. “We reach out to Family Promise and Family Connection, ready to help. We also work closely with local law enforcement,” Fran described. “We want the people of Effingham to know we are here to help people who feel like they don’t have a voice.”
Domestic violence is a growing epidemic in the United States and Effingham County has not been excluded; it is a rampant entity that does not discriminate based on race, age, gender, occupation or social status. In 1989, a group of concerned community members and leaders came together to establish the Effingham County Victim/Witness Assistance Program. It is designed to assist victims of violent crimes; with that, 90% are domestic violence related and 97% of clientele are women.
The statistics of domestic violence are fearfully alarming. According to the St. Jude House Family Violence Prevention Center and Shelter in Chicago, the following are accurate:
•  According to estimates, approximately 1.5 million women are raped and/or physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the United States.
•  60% of female homicide victims were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers. More than 12 times as many women were murdered by a man they knew than were killed by male strangers.
•  One out of every three pregnant women is battered.
•   50% of all women who are murdered in this country are killed by a boyfriend or husband.
•  25% of women in college have been the victim of rape or attempted rape. 84% of these victims were acquainted with their assailant.
•  The Negative Effects of Domestic Violence Continue:
•  Children raised in a chaotic, abusive environment are seven times more likely to grow up and repeat the same behavior as adults.
•  Violent behavior in a relationship is almost certain to be repeated again and again unless there is intervention.
•  The cycle of violence is often generational. Once started, it may be handed down from generation to generation, like an unfortunate family tradition.
The Effingham Victim Witness Assistant Program thrives on teamwork. The small and personable office is full of compassionate women. “They are from Effingham and know these people. They are eager and able to assist with their dedication and hard work”, the director appreciatively described.
If you or someone you know is a victim of a violent crime, please seek help immediately. Effingham Victim-Witness Assistant Program has a 24-hour emergency hotline: 912-754-7460. Don’t become a statistic, become a survivor.
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