I am writing in response to the Asheville Citizen-Times’ coverage from Dec. 20 regarding the warrants issued in the 2006 murder of Kelly Smith. As case manager at Our VOICE, Buncombe County’s rape crisis center, the news of warrants issued for a man who has possibly been terrorizing women in Asheville for many years left me feeling sad and horrified. Sometimes the hope is hard to find, and for me this is one of those times.
Our VOICE is gravely concerned about violence in our community, and we recently have been saddened by the deaths of women who are especially vulnerable to sexual assault and—as we are also seeing recently—murder. The deaths of Kelly Smith in 2006 and Karen White this month will hopefully serve as a wake-up call to those of us who call ourselves compassionate. It is not enough to read these stories and place blame on the victim. Let us come together as a community to serve those who are at risk of violence by realizing that individually we are all vulnerable and that increasing our safety can only be done effectively if we stand in solidarity as a community in support of each other.
We understand that the challenges individuals face when reporting sexual assault are enormous—judgment, self-blame and shame, to name only a few. Sixty percent of victims of sexual assault, for many reasons choose not to formally report the crime, but we can safely say that the unfavorable responses of our society as a whole can be especially re-victimizing in this type of crime. We also understand the risks involved are greatly amplified when sex workers are victimized.
For several years Our VOICE has worked in conjunction with the Asheville Police Department to take anonymous reports from victims of sexual assault to pass along to detectives. This information is compiled by the APD and can provide valuable identifying information on possible perpetrators of violence and crime. Victims can choose whether or not to be identified or contacted by the police. We have seen this system work successfully in our community by increasing patrols in certain areas and providing helpful tips to detectives. Blind reports are taken over the phone 24 hours a day on our crisis line (828-255-7576). We are also available during business hours to take these reports in person at our office, located in the United Way building at 50 S. French Broad Ave. in downtown Asheville. Victims can give as much or as little information as they like regarding the perpetrator and the crime committed. Callers are not required to identify themselves in any way, and we do not keep a record of their phone number unless we are given permission.
Additionally, Our VOICE provides free advocacy, education and counseling to primary and secondary victims of sexual violence and does not discriminate on the basis of any terms, including occupation. Our VOICE supports the right of all people to be safe from violence, and hopes you will do your part to dispel the shame of this issue by telling your own story if you have one and by supporting the survivors in your life by recognizing their bravery.
— Kristin Carswell