Laura Kuester has only been on the job since August, but she is making things happen, and helping people, at Help In Crisis Inc. (HIC).
Founded in 1980, HIC is based in Tahlequah and has offices and services in Sallisaw and in Adair and Wagoner Counties. Kuester is overseeing the opening of a new office in Wagoner at 4 p.m. on Feb. 6. The Wagoner office is at 901 SE 10th St.
Kuester, HIC executive director, explained HIC services. HIC has a Child Advocacy Center in Sallisaw, also called Childrens Safe Haven, which offers aid to children who may be victims of child abuse. The team there also does forensic interviews which may be used in prosecutions.
The primary purpose of HIC is to help all victims of domestic violence, and Sallisaw has a domestic violence advocate, Kim Harlin, who helps victims survive and even escape an abusive relationship, and a sexual assault advocate, Casey Burlison, who goes to the aid of rape victims, and can contact and provide a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) who may do an exam after a rape.
HIC also has volunteers, Kuester said, who operate a 24/7 hotline, and help with such things as outreach events, letting people know that help is available.
Kuester said that, in 2016, Sequoyah County had 165 domestic violence cases filed, 21 sexual assault cases filed and 8 stalking cases filed in district court.
“And that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “So many cases don’t get filed.”
Kuester referred to a case that just came to her attention on Monday, when a young lady, pregnant, was treated at a hospital in Tahlequah.
“She was black and blue,” Kuester said.
But the young lady did not want help from HIC.
“She said she was too scared of what he would do to her. Stuff like that happens every day.”
There are those who would like to make others aware of domestic violence, how often it takes place and how to cope with it or even make it vanish. Kuester said the Community Response Team (CRT) and others advocate for community awareness. Their next project is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). Kuester said teams will be going to county schools and Carl Albert State College in Sallisaw to hold panel discussions on dating violence.
Kuester said she loves her job at HIC.
“I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be,” she said. “I’m helping people with healthy relationships.”
The HIC mission is “to eliminate family violence and sexual assault through education, counseling, support and prevention services.”
Kuester has a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Missouri State University. She received a Professional Counseling License in 2000.
Kuester lives in Wagoner County with her husband, Brian, and their three children. Husband Brian was the district attorney for Sequoyah, Cherokee, Wagoner and Adair Counties until he was appointed the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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