Five questions with … Jenny Lee

By Sherri Coner // Photography by Christina Cosner

During Jenny Lee’s 23 years as a nurse practitioner at Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis, now known as Eskenazi Hospital, she became increasingly frustrated when introducing herself to distraught women from Johnson County.

Victimized by domestic violence and/or rape, the women made the trip north in traffic, found parking and waited for medical assistance in an unfamiliar hospital, all while struggling to cope with trauma due to a lack of services available in Johnson County.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women will be the victim of violence in her lifetime, with 60% of that violence occurring at home.

It also states that in the United States, 55% of homicides are directly related to domestic violence and half of homeless women and their children have fled unsafe home environments.

More data provided by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center indicates that one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime. Short-term or long-term bouts with post-traumatic stress disorder impacts 81% of females and 35% of males, which can lead to struggles with self-esteem, depression and anxiety, along with other health-related issues.

Over time, Lee’s passion for serving others grew to where she felt like she needed to do more to help. So the mother of six transferred to the Center Grove office of Johnson Memorial Health when the launch of a mental health initiative was announced.

But that wasn’t enough for Lee.

In 2016, she put together a team of eight professional women with equally compassionate hearts and launched ASSIST Indiana (Advocacy, Specialized Services, Interventions and Support to Trauma Survivors). Located on East Jefferson Street in downtown Franklin, the two-story, brick facility provides survivors and their families with an unmistakable level of love, acceptance, warmth and understanding.

“I have an incredible team,” Lee said. “We all wear multiple hats.”

Do violence and rape victims receive the level of community support they need?
According to Lee, the public does not understand domestic violence or rape. In fact, she said people frequently avoid talking about topics they can’t explain.

“They just can’t wrap their heads around it,” Lee said.

But keeping silent with family or friends sometimes leaves survivors feeling alone, misunderstood and often blamed, according to Lee. Also, silence, due to a lack of understanding, can influence friends or family members to explain violence and even rape accusations with excuses that blames the victim.

“A lot of people are in that mentality that it isn’t true because they don’t want it to be true,” Lee said. “But these crimes do occur. They occur a lot. Believe the victim.”

Along with referrals from family physicians and counselors, friends, family, teachers and school counselors and clergy, the ASSIST team always welcomes walk-ins. They also see survivors for individual therapy and group therapy.

How do you view the role of ASSIST in Johnson County?
While we continue to grow, we are always positive about survivors — past, present and future. We want to change how survivors are often publicly viewed. We lead by example to educate and change the minds of those in the community who do not understand and judge too quickly.

What positive changes do you see ASSIST implementing in the county?
At Wishard, after a survivor received medical attention in the emergency room, she was just gone. But we offer wrap-around services. We have a lot of resources, and we focus on all of them. We understand the survivor, as well as the family’s needs. We also appreciate the many people in the community who help us support these families in crisis.

What are some challenges ASSIST faces?
Like every other nonprofit program, we always need more funds, so we can do more. We want to offer long-term therapy to the women who need that. We want to provide more time to children and teenagers who are growing up in violent homes or have been sexually assaulted. Men who have been physically abused by their wives and partners, and men who are survivors of rape are also welcome. It takes funding to continue growing and meeting our needs.

What can Johnson County residents do to support ASSIST? How can they help?
Get the word out about ASSIST to anyone who needs help and healing. Monetary donations are also very, very appreciated.