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A report from the front lines in war against abuse

Today starts Domestic Violence Awareness month nationwide. Locally, events and fundraisers are planned to bring awareness to the issue. Penny Morrill, CEO of Sunrise of Pasco, recently chatted with the Times about what's happening at the local domestic violence center.

The event getting the most buzz is "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes," scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday in downtown Dade City. What's it all about?

That's really more of an awareness raiser. We won't make much money off it. … It's men marching as an awareness in women's shoes. They will have props, such as one of the guys is going to bring his dog — the point being you can't leave your pet at home with the abuser. Another guy will have a garbage bag, meaning it's not time to pack a nice suitcase. …

It's kind of taken on a life of its own. We've got more than 50 men registered. It's kind of a different type of awareness. It's going to be a fun thing.

And the shoes?

Whatever they choose. They can decorate flip flops, they can wear pumps. We don't want the guys breaking their ankles in stilettos.

Registration is still open. It's free.

What other events are planned?

Our annual candlelight vigil is Oct. 23 on the front lawn of Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. … We're doing something a little bit different: encouraging people to buy luminarias either in memory of someone or in honor of someone. We're going to have a pathway for the survivors to walk that will be lit by the luminarias.

In the last legislative session, lawmakers amended the law regarding SAVE exams for rape victims. How does that work now?

Before, you could only get a SAVE exam (Sexual Assault Victim Examination) if you reported the sexual assault to law enforcement. (Now, a victim can get the exam without necessarily reporting the incident to police, and the evidence will be held for three months in case the victim decides to press charges.)

The law was changed because oftentimes women, after they've had time to think about it, they wish they'd had the exam done. In the immediate crisis, they don't want to think about having to go to court, having to face the assaulter across the courtroom. They just want it to go away. …

Something may come up down the road that she decides she does want to press charges. But if there's no evidence, it's too late. Also if somebody else is raped, (investigators) can compare the evidence.

The other thing it does do, is if they want an advocate there with them during the exam, they can call Sunrise and we have counselors on call 24/7, and if they indicate they want additional counseling, we can set them up.

Any other news from Sunrise?

There's a biggie. We were notified … that Sunrise was selected for the Governor's Peace at Home Award for our (abuse) prevention work.

We started in the high school and found out it was too late, that the kids were already involved in violent relationships. So we took it down to the middle school. Same problem. And we finally figured out fifth grade was the place that we could start, and there was little or no violent relationships. Kids are growing up a lot faster.

So we worked with fifth-graders and followed them to middle school. We started at San Antonio Elementary, which is a feeder school to Pasco Middle. Their focus was more on bullying because they're still not into major dating relationships. But there was a lot of talk about respectful relationships. It's the power and control, the big bully, he's got the power. He's going to threaten, intimidate, be abusive and that model is the same model as domestic violence. …

So the kids then decided that they wanted to continue, and we wanted to continue with them. We now have over 50 kids involved, and we're going back to San Antonio Elementary. Other schools would like to be involved but we don't have the staff. ...

It's a real plus for Pasco County. And it's not just about Sunrise — it's about our community that has done all this work over the years.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.

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A report from the front lines in war against abuse 09/30/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 5, 2008 10:41am]
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