HARRISBURG — More than 41,000 adults in Illinois are survivors of domestic violence, with 8,000 children witnessing the violence, according to Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
For survivors of domestic violence living in Saline County and surrounding counties, finding services became more difficult in March 2015 when the Anna Bixby Women’s Center. It closed when the Illinois Attorney General’s Office brought charges against its director Barbara Wingo and assistant director Terrie Wingo Eichorn in March 2015.
Anna Bixby Women’s Center offered 24-hour crisis hotline for those experiencing domestic abuse, an emergency shelter, counseling, women’s support groups, children’s service and legal advocacy in Saline, Gallatin, Pope, White and Hardin counties.
“It is a big loss to Saline County, Harrisburg and the surrounding counties. It is bad for Southern Illinois. A lot of people relied on that place,” Harrisburg Mayor John McPeek said. “They did a lot for abused people in Southern Illinois. It’s a shame we don’t have the resource anymore.”
To help, the Women’s Center, a Carbondale-based domestic violence center, opened a satellite office at 540 N. Commercial St. in Harrisburg in December 2015 to serve Gallatin, Johnson and Saline counties.
According to Andrea Stephens of the Women’s Center Domestic Violence Program, the Harrisburg office provides legal and medical advocacy, group and individual counseling for adults and children and rape crisis services. Women and children seeking emergency shelter can access the shelter in Carbondale.
“Our numbers are pretty high there. We provided 180 hours of service to 142 people for one month in Saline County,” Stephens said. “There is a big need, especially in Saline County.”
Stephens explained that Johnson and Gallatin counties do not have a high level of need because they have a smaller population.
The center also provides a parenting class for Illinois Department of Human Services clients and gives presentations to schools, hospitals and police. They hosted a presentation on human trafficking in April.
A legal advocate from the Women’s Center is available from 7:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday in Saline County courthouse, and travels as needed to courthouses in other counties.
“They are all free services, no matter who you are. We serve everyone who is a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault,” Stephens said.
While McPeek is thankful for the services provided by The Women’s Center, he also is sad that women seeking immediate shelter from domestic violence no longer have an option in Harrisburg. He added that the Bixby Center had purchased property to build a new building, but that is now tied up in court proceedings.
“People need shelter sometimes. I know it’s is needed. I know of a couple incidents in Harrisburg in the last month, and we had nowhere for a family to go,” McPeek said.
“The need for our services is always there,” Stephens said. “The Women’s Center and ICADV know that it is very important to keep the services active. It can be a life or death matter.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, contact The Women’s Center in Carbondale at 618-549-4807, in Marion at 618-993-3178, in Harrisburg at 618-294-8641 or in Franklin County at 618-438-4118. A 24-hour crisis hotline is available at 800-334-2094.