When a serial rapist attacked women in Fort Valley, Lillian Hadley-Small was among those who answered the call to help the victims.
Hadley-Small is a crime victim advocate for Hodac, a Warner Robins-based nonprofit that provides education, prevention and intervention services and programs for crime victims and those dealing with drug addiction and other issues.
“Having been a victim before myself, I understand completely what it’s like to have no one to call on, no one to share your feelings with,” said Hadley-Small, who was sexually assaulted when she was in college. “And just being able to have that avenue is so critical. It’s so important.
“I understand what it’s like, so I’m grateful to be one that can serve. ... It’s a passion of mine, and I’m thankful for the opportunity, and I know it’s only because I was once in their shoes.”
Hadley-Small was dispatched to the hospital for all four sexual assault incidents -- two rapes and two attempted rapes -- near the Fort Valley State University campus in April. The most recent rape was early Tuesday. Hadley-Small said she cannot discuss the incidents because of a confidentiality agreement with the women.
Peach County authorities think they are dealing with a serial rapist after at least a dozen break-ins in which an armed, masked man in dark clothing was discovered in the homes but stole nothing. The suspect descriptions match, the break-ins are similar and all within walking distance of each other.
The suspect is described as a black man, 20 to 30 years old, standing 5 feet 6 inches tall to 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighing between 130 and 150 pounds. A task force has been formed, and the GBI has been called in.
Authorities are advising residents to be extra vigilant.
“Lock all windows and doors and use every safety precaution,” Fort Valley Public Safety Director Lawrence Spurgeon posted on the agency’s Facebook page. “Look out for your neighbors and report any suspicious activity to the police or sheriff department. The smallest tip could be the one that makes all the difference.”
HOPE AFTER SEXUAL ASSAULT
When her phone rings overnight that a woman has been sexually assaulted and is being taken to the Medical Center of Peach County, Navicent Health; Houston Medical Center; or Perry Hospital, the three hospitals Hodac serves, Hadley-Small is ready.
The 60-year-old U.S. Air Force retiree quickly dresses, grabs a bag prepared in advance to help the victim, and heads out the door.
When she arrives at the hospital, the victim is given the opportunity to accept or decline her help. Most women agree. A few decline, usually because they have been involved in drugs or some other illegal activity and/or think the sexual assault was somehow their fault, Hadley-Small said. But whatever the circumstances of a sexual assault, the victim is never at fault, she said.
Some victims who decline help at the hospital call later and receive services. Women who have not reported the sexual assault and don’t want to involve police may also benefit from Hodac services, including women who may have been sexually assaulted in the past but have never told anyone. Some women have sought help for the first time 20 or more years after a sexual assault, Hadley-Small said.
At the hospital, she said her goal is to bring light into dark circumstances for the women she serves. She will sit with a woman and hold her hand through the medical exam and through interviews with law enforcement personnel.
She explains what’s happening and why, offers referral service information and explains the legal process. She’ll walk the woman through the entire process, including sitting in the courtroom to support a victim called to testify.
She knows how the women are feeling. But Hadley-Small said she’s careful not to share her own story unless asked because she wants the focus to be on the woman in crisis and not herself.
Women do not have to be defined by the crime committed against them and can find freedom from the false guilt, shame and all that accompanies being sexually assaulted, Hadley-Small said.
When she was sexually assaulted, there wasn’t a program like Hodac offers where she lived, and she suffered alone for 10 years before she said God helped her break free.
Throughout her military career, no matter where she was stationed, Hadley-Small looked for ways to help others. She became a Hodac advocate in 1997 after moving to Warner Robins. She retired from Robins Air Force Base in 2000 after 24 years of service.
In addition to helping a victim through the exam and police questioning process, Hadley-Small also gives the woman a change of clothes and toiletries provided by donations to Hodac. Those are carried in the bag that Hadley-Small grabs when she leaves home. The woman is also given a packet of information, including an extensive list of referral agencies.
Hadley-Small also can help the woman fill out a Georgia Crime Victim Assistance Compensation Program form. The statewide program provides coverage of the hospital bill and other expenses of victims and their families.
Within 24 hours, Hadley-Small follows up with the victim and can help her, if desired, sign up for counseling, a support group and other services.
For Hadley-Small, who is also an ordained minister through End Time Harvest Christian Center in Warner Robins, helping women overcome sexual assault has become her life’s work. She wants other women to enjoy the same freedom she enjoys.
“I want to be that voice of encouragement, that voice of restoration -- that you can make it. ... That you can be victorious,” she said.
Trained advocates like Hadley-Small, who are on a rotating call basis, are available by calling the Hodac help line at 211. These same advocates are dispatched through the help line for domestic violence victims. The Georgia Crime Victim Assistance Helpline at 800-338-6745 is available statewide.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.