By Megan Alley,
Sun staff -
The 2017 National Crime Victims Rights’ Week Annual Luncheon, held April 6 at the Pattison Park Lodge & Gazebo, brought together community leaders, law enforcement officials and victim assistance advocates and survivors.
The luncheon is now in its fourth year.
It was started to, “shine a light on crime victims in Clermont County and to bring awareness to the resources that were available to help them,” Stephanie Ross, director of the Clermont County Victim Assistance Office, said in a notice for the event.
The VAO is part of the county’s Prosecutor’s Office and provides direct services to felony and misdemeanor crime victims in the criminal court system.
Last year, the VAO helped more than 2,300 victims of crime.
The luncheon was sponsored by the Clermont County Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Team as well as the Clermont County Advocacy Alliance on Violence, which is made up of the following member agencies: the Prosecutor’s Office, YWCA, Mental Health & Recovery Board, Juvenile Court, Sheriff’s Office, Child Focus and Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services.
“This is a serious occasion and a noteworthy cause,” David Uible, county commissioner, said before he presented a county proclamation.
Next, Scott O’Reilly, assistant prosecutor for the county who in child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault cases, delivered his remarks.
“I have spent literally my entire professional career standing next to, or adjacent to, victims of crime,” he said. “Often being a firsthand witness to the pain, and never truly understanding.”
He added, “I try to do my best, and continue to do so, to help those families, those individuals through what can be one of the most tragic times in their lives.”
O’Reilly, who grew up in Finnytown, went on to share stories about the personal losses that he has experienced.
A close, childhood friend was murdered by an unknown assailant when she was a freshman at Ohio State University in 1994.
Another one of O’Reilly’s friends was murdered a few years later in Kentucky.
Finally, his wife died from cancer in January 2016.
“From tragedy, be it crime or cancer, there is hope,” O’Reilly said. “If there’s anything I can say as you walk out of here, remember that just because the case is closed, it’s not closed for the victims and their families.”
He added, “Those individuals and families still need our help, they still need our assistance.”
Then, O’Reilly introduced Crystal Laurie and Brittni Johnson, two survivors with the same abuser.
The women, whose children are half-siblings, have found solace in one another.
They are even forming a support group to help other women who have suffered from abuse.
“The mental and verbal abuse, I have to say, is the worst,” Laurie said. “The bruises heal, but the mental and verbal wounds do not, so they’re always there.”
Johnson’s young son was born with posttraumatic stress disorder and anxiety, caused by the physical abuse Johnson suffered when she was pregnant with him.
“That was traumatizing on its own, to know that what I went affected him so badly that he wouldn’t be born a normal, happy little baby,” Johnson said. “I didn’t even know babies could be affected like that.”
Johnson’s abuser would go on to batter their son when he was baby, which was a final straw in the cycle of abuse that lead to Johnson fleeing with her children.
“Domestic violence isn’t easy, and it’s something you don’t understand, unless, usually, you’ve gone through it or you know somebody who has gone through it,” Johnson said.
O’Reilly closed out the luncheon by asking attendees to remember that they can help victims of abuse. He also urged the victims in attendance to remember that there’s hope.
“There are ways that you can take what’s happened to you and make it better,” he said, adding, “Do not let this define you.”