14 News Special Report: New Beginnings

14 News Special Report: New Beginnings

EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - It’s been more than a year since #MeToo spread across the internet putting a voice to the stories of many sexual assault and harassment survivors. You might think the movement’s dying down, but a group in Owensboro is still seeing the “Me Too” effects. They’re doing something about it.

The movement moved across the country.

Headline after headline dominated the news as more victims cried “Me Too” and shared their stories of abuse and sexual harassment. Therapist Jennifer Francis-Gehring watched the movement start on twitter and move to the Tri-State. Jennifer has been with New Beginnings nearly 3 years, but the organization has been supporting survivors of sexual assault for 31 years.

“The phones just rang off the hook. People were mad. People were sad. People were confused," Jennifer said.

She works alongside Director Karla Ward who says there was something different about “Me Too” from the start.

“It was very impactful on our survivors, and I think they felt that they too had a story. They were able to come forward and disclose that information because some of them have been holding on to this secret for 20 or 30 years so the ‘Me Too’ movement empowered people to be able to open that door and talk about it," Karla said.

As phone calls increased, New Beginnings began offering more services, like working with trafficking victims or those who are incarcerated. Then last summer more sexual abuse was uncovered in the Catholic church. This time, the accusers lived right in our community. Bishop William Medley with the Owensboro Diocese held listening sessions across Western Kentucky. Jennifer knew she needed to go to one.

“My question to Bishop Medley was ‘Do you all offer a support group’ and he said, ‘No we don’t.’”Jennifer said.

Louanne Payne works with the diocese. She was at the listening session and liked Jennifer’s idea.

“It was like a light bulb went off because this is something great," Louanne said. "This is something we can do. I quickly handed her my card and said ‘Let’s work together.’”

“And I said ‘Oh my gosh. I would love to meet with you and talk,’” Jennifer said

So New Beginnings together with the Diocese and started something they had never done before. They offered a support group for not just victims of sexual assault in the Catholic church, but to any survivor- including their family and friends.

“The church cares, and I think this is a way to show that we care. We take responsibility seriously, and we want to help people in their healing process," Louanne said.

More than a dozen brave survivors got help in the 6 week program. Now, the New Beginnings team is creating more support groups to help even more people.

“The “Me Too” movement escalated people into coming forward and feeling that sense of I’m not alone in all of this. There are others like me. It’s okay to talk about it. I don’t have to talk about it with everyone, but I should talk about it,” Karla said.

You can visit https://nbowensboro.org/ for more information on the support services available.

New Beginnings will be hosting Elizabeth Smart on August 31st at the Owensboro Convention Center. Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped back in 2002 from her Utah home when she was just 14 years old. Police found her 9 months later. Now, she travels the country sharing her story. Tickets are on sale now for $70 a piece.

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