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To raise awareness for National Crime Victims' Rights Week, the Southwest Crisis Center has rented five billboards in Worthington. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

Grant helps local efforts in Crime Victims' Week

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- In recognition of National Crime Victims' Rights Week, the Southwest Crisis Center, in partnership with numerous local organizations, will host a candlelight vigil from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Worthington Fire Hall.

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The vigil will be the culmination of a week-long effort to raise awareness about crime victims' rights.

The project is funded by a National Crime Victims' Rights Week Community Awareness Project subgrant awarded by the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators under a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant from the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The grant was awarded to 77 organizations in the U.S., only two of which are based in Minnesota.

"It's a big deal for us. We felt like we had a unique population in Worthington and Nobles County and wanted to get some awareness out into the community about crime victims' rights," said Sara Wahl, executive director of the Southwest Crisis Center.

The grant provides for a week of funding, and Wahl said the center has done its best to make the money it received go as far as it can.

To kick off the campaign, the Southwest Crisis Center did a poster project with students at the Worthington Middle School. An art class at the high school also did a collage project.

"We're going to put some of those up around town and have them displayed for our event," said Wahl, referring to the candlelight vigil.

The vigil will start at the fire hall and include speakers and a "silent walk" through downtown Worthington.

"I feel like it's timely with all that is happening in Boston," Wahl said. "I feel sad about taht, but for us, it's an opportunity to come together as a community and say what we stand for and what is important to us and how we want the community of Worthington to look like and feel."

Wahl added that there will also be people dressed in black at the vigil to represent different kinds of crime victims.

A large part of the project is the rental of five billboards in Worthington, which address three of the five focuses of this year's National Crime Victims' Rights Week -- child sexual abuse, sex trafficking and elderly financial abuse.

"Child sexual abuse has been in the media a lot and is at the forefront of our attention - so is sex trafficking," Wahl explained. "Elder financial abuse, the way I think about it, it's not in terms of scamming but in terms of being controlled financially by close family members and people they trust."

With the billboards, Wahl said she hopes to bring attention and awareness to crime victims' rights and the services available locally.

"I think sometimes we feel isolated here, but we want people to know that there are services available," she said.

Wahl said Minnesota is ranked 13th in the nation for sex trafficking. While Worthington may not receive a high number of reports regarding sex trafficking, Wahl pointed out that it's an issue in the region.

"For us, we know that it's happening and that Worthington, being on the interstate and close to Sioux Falls, is a place that girls are often transported through," she said.

Worthington Police Department Detective Sgt. Kevin Flynn said that while the Worthington Police Department hasn't responded to any sex trafficking cases in Worthington, it has assisted outside agency "where people have been en route here or at one time they were here."

Criminal sexual assault is more common in Worthington, as it is for most police departments. Flynn said that to date, the police department havs received seven complaints of criminal sexual assault in Nobles County, six of which took place in Worthington.

"The sad part of that is that the majority of those involve juveniles," he said. "Criminal sexual assault is horrible on any level, but when a juvenile is the victim, it's even more significant."

Nobles County has also received 46 domestic reports in Worthington and Nobles County combined, though Flynn noted those are only the ones reported and that many go unreported.

"A number of those, probably at least a third of them, involve juveniles, too, either as a victim or as the complainant with a child calling in to report domestic in the home," he said.

Flynn said he hopes the partnerships with the Southwest Crisis Center during National Crime Victims' Rights Week will increase the awareness of the resources in Nobles County available to victim.

"Especially crimes of violence, they are often left in the position where they don't have enough information about what is going to happen next with court or who will help them work through the process," he said. "We're trying to be visible and work with the Crisis Center, which we do on a daily basis on calls, and it's part of what we need to be doing."

For more information, contact the Southwest Crisis Center at 376-4311.

Daily Globe reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.

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