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Women's Center of East Texas expands reach to abuse victims

By Angela Ward award@news-journal.com
Oct. 23, 2011 at 10 p.m.


The Women's Center of East Texas wants to intertwine some purple with all the pink that's around in October.

"There's a lot of focus this month on breast cancer, which is symbolized by pink ribbons, and we certainly don't want to detract from that," said Executive Director Shannon Trest. "At the same time, we'd like to see a few more purple ribbons, to remind people of the seriousness of domestic and sexual violence. After all, they're both issues that effect primarily women."

However, Trest said that domestic and sexual violence, like breast cancer, is not limited strictly to women.

"Sexual and domestic assaults in which men are the victims are almost certainly underreported," Trest said. "We do know it goes on and, despite our name, we offer counseling to victims of both genders."

The Women's Center of East Texas has recently expanded in several ways. The office has moved to a new location on Wal Street in north Longview and it's recently added Rusk and Panola counties to the areas it serves.

"We needed a larger facility so that we could offer abuse victims the privacy they need to tell their stories to counselors," Trest said. "While we were always willing to serve any person in East Texas who sought our help, we now have an official presence in six counties."

The Henderson office remains in the same location as when it was part of the Kilgore Crisis Center, she said, and retains the same staff."We believe this continuity will help reduce the stress for Rusk County residents who are dealing with issues of domestic violence or sexual assault," Trest said.

The Women's Center of East Texas serves Gregg, Harrison, Upshur, Marion, Panola and Rusk counties. In addition to its Wal Street location, it maintains a residence for abused women and children, the location of which is kept confidential.

"The biggest change we've seen over the past five years is, unfortunately, the fact that the victims are getting younger," Trest said. "It used to be that almost all the victims we saw were over the age of 21 and were married to or living with their abusers; they were tied to them for economic reasons or because they had children together. Nowadays we're seeing more teenage girls who are being abused by their boyfriends."

While it might seem like it would be easier for a teenage girl to end an abusive dating relationship than for an adult women to walk out on her husband or live-in boyfriend, Trest said that's often not the case.

"Because of their lack of maturity and because, sadly, many of them have grown up in families where violence is considered to be normal, it's often more difficult to convince a teenager to break up with her boyfriend than it is to to get an adult woman to leave an abusive situation," she said.

The women's center has been a fixture in East Texas long enough that the counselors are beginning to see some familiar faces, making them realize anew how difficult it is to stop the cycle of violence once it's begun, Trest said.

"We currently have a woman living in our residential home who was there as a child with her own mother," she said. "We're glad to have an opportunity to help her get out of a violent situation, but it's sad to see these scenarios repeated in successive generations," Trest said.

The center will hold its annual candlelight vigil for people who have lost their lives to domestic violence during the past year at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Soda Lake Baptist Association, 2109 Victory Dr. in Marshall.

To contact the Women's Center of East Texas, call (903) 295-7846 for the Longview office or (903) 657-7363 for the Henderson office.

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