Survivors of violent crimes band together in Charleston, MO

CHARLESTON, MO (KFVS) - Survivors of violent crimes gathered for a candle lighting ceremony in Charleston Missouri Tuesday night to honor loved ones they have lost and share stories about their healing process.

The event took place at the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center as part of National Crime Victims Rights Week to raise awareness about resources available to all victims.

As music played, people lit their colorful candles and placed them on a star, and each color represents different type of crime that the person is overcoming.

Marsha Keene-Hutchason, CEO of the center knows what it's like to be a crime victim, and held a red candle for homicide, a purple candle for domestic violence and a teal candle for sexual assault.

"The candle lighting ceremony is usually very quiet and emotional," Keene-Hutchason said. "Some tears, some silent prayers, some hugs, and a lot of support from people in the audience who may not even know each other."

Keene-Hutchason said the ceremony was also a way for survivors like here to encourage more victims to use the free programs offered at agencies like Susanna Wesley to help them move past their traumatic event.

"We're no different than you. We understand. We're going to be here," Keene-Hutchason said.  "We do not judge. Just come in, sit down, have a conversation with us and we will go from there. We're never going to tell anybody what they have to do. We're going to give people options."

Some of their programs include advocacy services, therapy, education, and legal assistance and Keene-Hutchason says a lot of crime victims aren't aware or don't fully understand their rights.

The CEO says she was intimidated and felt helpless the first time she was in court and faced her perpetrator, but says she is now passionate about helping other people get through it.

"I know what it feels like to be afraid to tell your story, to be embarrassed by your story," Keene-Hutchason said. "I know the fear of reaching out to the criminal justice system hoping to maybe be protected being afraid that you're maybe not going to be. Don't be intimidated to come and talk to me or anybody else because we can change sides of the desk at any point and that is true. There have been many, many of my clients of the years that have healed me as much as I've healed them."

In 2017 Susanna Wesley gave legal assistance to 56 victims.

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