Samaritan Saturday: The Women’s Center of Carbondale is a safe haven in southern Illinois

By Jamilah Lewis, Staff Reporter

Edited 4/6 12:05

The Women’s Center in Carbondale is a safe place for victims and survivors of rape, sexual assault or domestic violence, or any person involved in something traumatic, to seek shelter and help with their problems.

According to the center’s website,  the center founded in 1972 was one of the first domestic violence centers in the country with experts there to help people who want to get back on track in their lives and heal from their traumatic situations.

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The Women’s Center has satellite locations across southern Illinois, including in Franklin, Johnson, Perry, Saline, Willamson, Union and Gallatin counties, with the main shelter for survivors in Carbondale.

Jasmine Creek, a rape crisis advocate at the Women’s Center has worked at the center for five years. Before they worked there, they did a lot of feminist organizing when attending school at SIU and said the Women’s Center was a good support resource to them.

Creek said the center has a rape crisis program, a domestic violence program which helps victims/survivors with criminal advocacy if they have an assault investigation. The center can help people get protection orders for their offenders, and provide them counseling.

“A lot of people come in after having been assaulted and going to the ER; that’s where they usually learn about our services,” Creek said. “ Then we help them through things like tracking their evidence collection that happens there, or getting counseling after things like that.”

Creek said the counselors are really inclusive with the survivors in how they set goals and objectives for what they want to work on.

“We make sure that every step of the way they’re empowered and make the decisions on how they move forward,” Creek said. “If they decide they want to stay in counseling or they want to continue advocacy services, we support them in that, but there may come a time where they just get busy or they feel like they’ve healed enough or developed the coping mechanism they need.”

Creek said the center is working to become more inclusive to everyone, not just women.

“We also try to make sure that the community is aware that we serve every gender,” Creek said. “There’s women who are survivors but there are male survivors and non-binary survivors, so we’re trying to work on making sure that the LGBTQ community and men as well know that they can come here for the same services.”

Transitional case manager Sarah Settles has been working with the Women’s Center for two years with a background in social work as a legal advocate in Williamson County for ten years and a child advocate for one year.

Settles said people usually call the hotline the center has first, and from there they figure what the person needs and what direction/program they should go to. 

“They can possibly need to talk to a counselor, [or] if they need to talk to an advocate,” Settles said. “We work very closely with Land of Lincoln, [and] Gail Thomas over at the school of law at SIU.”

With Settles being a victim of domestic violence herself, she turned to the Women’s Center when she was younger, she said.

“[I]  stayed in the women’s center when it was just a very small house in Carbondale,” Settle said. “ Now it’s a very large building and they have much more adequate space to help survivors more.”

Settles said one of her closest cases she worked on was a mom getting custody of her daughter back. The mother had an order of protection out against her and Settles was there to help her through it, she said.

“I sat with her for that two weeks until the hearing, and she won,” Settles said. “She got her child back and it was a mess, but it was very powerful to me to see how sometimes the court system is still flawed, but they have fixed it even because of that case. It was just a hard case for me to handle just because it was a woman that had a child my age.”

Administrative assistant Marisa Szubryt said she’s worked with around 30 individuals and it has helped her learn more about the issues that the center helps with.

“I’ve felt that I’ve gotten a lot better skill with how prevalent these issues are… it all feels very much more real,” Szubryt said. “ You know how significant an impact we can have on people’s lives and helping them get back to a place where they can be on their own feet after a little bit of help and care.”

Szubryt said what makes the center different is the importance they put on helping the victims/survivors.

“I think that what we offer that’s unique to our area is really client-centered care,” Szubryt said. “Having a place that’s totally judgment-free where survivors are in a place and positions in which they can make their own decisions and we will support them the best that we can, but really giving them power back in situations.”

Szubryt said some people don’t feel their cases are critical enough or might not be collected enough to speak about it and that’s what they are here for.

The Women’s Center has a 24/7 hotline available for victims who need help that can be reached at 1-800-334-2094.

Staff reporter Jamilah Lewis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @jamilahlewis

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