The Shelter hired 30-year-old Rhonika Thomas three weeks ago to staff the office.
For the last year, the local office here only was visited by persons from Corpus Christi on an occasional basis; no counseling was offered.
Her first day was Sept. 11. She says it’s about time.
“It has been almost non-stop.”
Thomas, whose job description is professional counselor/victim advocate, holds a master’s degree in professional counseling from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., near St. Louis.
“Ronnie,” as she prefers to be called, expects to earn her Ph.D. in counseling in about two years.
Most of the cases she has encountered so far concern domestic violence, including sexual assault.
“There are a lot more cases in Beeville than people may want to admit. A lot of people just want to slip things like that under the rug.”
An information brochure bears that out. It says one in three women are beaten or sexually abused in their lifetime; one on five adolescent girls are victim of dating violence and 39 percent of all women murdered in Texas in 2008 were killed by an intimate partner.
To counter such statistics, the Shelter offers a 24-hour hotline (1-800-580-HURT), a 24-hour safe shelter, crisis intervention counseling, legal advocacy, sexual assault victim services, batterers intervention and prevention programs and community education and awareness programs.
The home office of the Shelter is in Corpus Christi, with branches in Beeville, Alice and Kingsville. They share almost 40 communities in 10 counties.
The local center is responsible for Bee, Live Oak and McMullen counties, George West, Three Rivers, Pernitas Point and Tilden. Its number is 362-1187.
One of the first tasks Thomas accomplished after her arrival was to rearrange her office and make her adjacent counseling office more comfortable for clients.
Since Sept. 11, Thomas says she has seen about 20 woman. Some have been referred to her by law enforcement, others were walk-in; all were Hispanic.
Thomas says she has encountered no problems with clients not taking her seriously because of her youthful appearance.
“I’m a good listener,” she says, saying that it doesn’t take very long for a person seeking her out to realize she is a professional.
“I had prisoners at the Garza Unit where I used to work who would open up to me when they wouldn’t open up to anyone else,” she says.
Thomas expects the number to grow once the word gets out that the office, after so long a time, is staffed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
In between clients, Thomas is stressing the education and prevention aspects of her job. She is scheduling talks at Beeville elementary, middle and high school classes to discuss proper family relationships, negating the mindset of male dominance and bullying.
“The wrong message is being sent,” she says, “if a child sees family violence on television, and then sees the same thing at home.”
And, she adds, that violence “isn’t always about someone hitting the other, or being raped. It can be verbal and psychological, but it’s still domestic violence.”
Further, she points out, the affects of such violence extend beyond the victims themselves.
“One way or another all of us are ‘secondary victims,’ because we all know someone who has been a victim. It affects us, as well,” she says.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.