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August 17, 2019

9/9/2017 7:28:00 AM
Tri-County executive director responds to recent coverage

To the Editor:

My name is Shellie Holmes; I am the executive director of Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. I have been employed with the agency since February of 2004 as an advocate; I became executive director in September 2006. As the director, it is my duty to always act in the best interests of this agency, both for the victims we serve and the community as a whole.

I am writing regarding information in the articles about the Sara Welcenbach case. To make the record clear and to dispel any misunderstanding about the roles of Tri-County Council and the Oneida County Sheriff's Department, Captain Terri Hook has never been employed by nor has she been an advocate with Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault. We understand that Ms. Hook was covered under a Violence Against Women Act grant from the late 1990s into the early 2000s. Under this grant she was trained as the sensitive crimes officer, worked with Tri-County Council as a law enforcement liaison, and was the advocate for the Oneida County Sheriff's Department where she was employed. As such, she was not covered under the state statutes that advocates are. Advocates in domestic violence/sexual assault agencies by law must keep the confidentiality of victims. This is the only group for which that statute applies.

Ms. Hook's primary role concerning advocacy was to refer victims to the advocates at TCCDVSA, not to be an advocate for victims. At TCCDVSA, our job is to be advocates, providing emotional, legal and medical support, information, counseling and community referrals. Captain Hook's job is to ensure that the victim has been referred to an advocate and to investigate a crime in order to bring a perpetrator to justice.

The unintended consequence of misunderstanding this difference is that it has the potential to send a very negative and frightening message to victims. Victims need to be able to trust that law enforcement will respond to their needs when they are in danger, and that advocates at Tri-County Council will listen to their story and keep their confidentiality. We make that promise to victims. As an agency, we have an excellent relationship of mutual trust and understanding with the Oneida County Sheriff's Department. We are so very grateful for their responses, compassion, support and respect for our work with victims.

Thank you for clarifying this issue.

Shellie Holmes


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