GEORGIANA, AL (WSFA) - The Lighthouse Counseling Center launched two mobile rape exam units to serve rural counties this week. The units fall under the centers Standing Together Against Rape (S.T.A.R) Program.
According to Lighthouse Counseling Center Executive Director Nathan Cook, one of the biggest issues the center faces in serving victims in certain counties is getting them to One Place Family Justice Center in Montgomery to undergo the sexual assault exam.
"A lot of victims won't do it," Cook said.
The center re-purposed two RV's to place strategically so victims wouldn't have far to go. One is in Georgiana at Georgiana Medical Center to serve victims in Lowndes, Butler and Crenshaw Counties. A second mobile unit is in Selma at Vaughan Regional Medical Center to serve victims in Dallas, Wilcox and Perry Counties.
"We had to put an exam room in, so we have to retrofit it based on the model of our center at One Place," said Cook. "We had to get a colposcope, which is the main piece of equipment."
Cook said each unit costs about $250,000. The center received funds from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the United Way and a number of federal grants to pay for the project.
"It's the first in this state, so I'm excited to see how it works," Cook said.
Georgiana Police Chief Carlton Cook and Greenville Police Chief Justin Lovvorn attended the launch of the Butler County site to support the impact the program will have in their area.
"This has a tremendous value for the county as a whole, especially for our victims that are out there that fail to report rape cases," said Georgiana Police Chief Carlton Cook. "This will allow them the opportunity to just come here and, at least, speak with someone, help them with their problem."
Chief Cook said the resource will also allow for officers to be better able to work the investigation surrounding the incident, without the responsibility of having to transport victims long distances or wait for resources to come to them.
Terria Herron, who works as a rural sexual assault counselor in Lowndes, Butler and Crenshaw Counties, said bringing healing to the victims is key to getting them help.
"We're hoping they'll realize that, 'Hey, I have a safe place that I can go to, someone who is willing to listen and be there just for me,'" Herron said.
As a rape survivor herself, Herron said her hope is that more victims will feel emboldened to begin the process of getting tested to build evidence for a case against their attacker. She also hopes the resource will be a first step toward moving forward and healing.
"I know, for me, this would have been a game-changer," said Herron.