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Cooperation needed for justice center to improve victim aid

Dec 4, 2016 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Part 2 of 2.

A family justice center on the Wind River Indian Reservation will allow services for victims of domestic violence to be more centrally located in Fremont County, according to supporters of the effort.

Sydney Moller, executive director for the Fremont County Alliance Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, talked about the idea during a meeting of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations last month in Lander.

Not only would services be more central in the county, Moller continued, but help would be centralized under one roof, making it easier for clients to receive the help they need.

The center could house regular victim advocates, child care, a protection order division, counseling services, staff trained in suicide prevention, substance abuse counselors, law enforcement, low-income housing assistance, a food bank, health care personnel, student support, Department of Family Services staff and many other resources.

"We can't deal with these separately," Moller said. "Whether it's sexual assault, domestic violence, burglary, or child abuse... they're falling through the cracks."

Currently, Moller's program provides support, shelter, education and advocacy for victims through its offices in Riverton, Lander and Dubois. From the time a client leaves her office and has to travel to a different office for other services, Moller said, that person or family can lose track of their well-being and ultimate goal - to move forward after becoming a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence.

If all of the services were under one roof, there wouldn't be a gap.

"Many victims feel alone," Moller said. "We need to give them the tools so they can save themselves."

There needs to be a creative solution to this problem, she said, and the community needs to see the success with the Violence Against Women Act, which in 1994 was adopted into federal legislation to combat violence against women.

Moller's program receives funding through VAWA. She suggested that a family justice center on the reservation could be funded through the Family Justice Center Alliance, an organization that has opened centers in other communities and helps communities open their own facilities.

Tribal relations committee member and Wyoming Sen. Bernadine Craft, D-Rock Springs, said there was a similar center in Sweetwater County, and it has been successful. The center received guidance to start up from the FJCA.

The funding effort started locally, however, and not though the legislature, she said.

"But these justice centers do work," Craft said.

Moller said she has been actively seeking the support of other agencies, committees, and the business councils for each tribe. She has also looked at grants that could help fund the center.

She's trying to relay the message that there's a dire need for these services and that a new center will positively impact the communities in the county. There will be fewer trips to the hospital emergency room, and more people will have productive days at work - and actually go to work, she said. Children will also do better in school, she added.

"When people don't live in fear they become better citizens in the community," Moller said.

More American Indian women have experienced domestic violence in their lives than any other group, but Moller said it's also the least reported crime.

"We have a massive issue so we need to be treating it," she said.

She went on to list some obstacles people face after they become victims of domestic violence. Many go back to their perpetrator because they can't support themselves financially, they need help with child care, and they have nowhere to live. They could be on a waiting list for housing for six months or longer, Moller said.

Community investment

In order to help the people in Fremont County, numerous groups, agencies, individuals and community members need to invest in the idea of a family justice center, Moller said.

"It takes community investment first, because it's a big project," she said. "We do a bad job of getting services to people who need them, but a justice center would help us do better."

The center would also help avoid the overlapping of services and reduce costs for programs.

The select committee commended Moller for her work and idea of a family justice center. Moller plans to continue meeting with legislators, local organizations and the tribes.

With full support from the community, FJCA would also be more willing to help, Moller said.

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