Arnold Bell is serving a life sentence at the Franklin Correctional Institution as inmate #835776 for sexually assaulting a young Key West girl from the time she was 8 until she found her courage to stop her abuser some four years later.
Today Christina’s Courage, the rape and crisis center named in her honor, remains a beacon of hope and safety for abused children and battered women of the Florida Keys.
“She spent eight hours in the hospital because there was no Rape and Child Abuse Center back then,” said Christina’s Courage President Linda Mixon.
A detective sergeant with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Division, Mixon often finds victims of abuse cowering in a corner, beaten and humiliated.
The last place they want to be is sitting in a hospital waiting room filled with strangers, or even worse – old schoolmates or co-workers.
So Christina’s Courage was opened at an undisclosed location in Key West nearly six years ago as “a safe and comfortable location for law enforcement officers to bring victims of assaults and child abuse for forensic medical exams and interviews.”
The facility is essentially a converted apartment that allows victims to receive a quick and thorough medical exam, and answers questions posed by a trained MCSO Victim Advocate, like Elaine Woodson.
“It makes a person feel just so much better when they have privacy,” said Woodson. “They just take a sigh of relief.”
Woodson served as the county’s first victim’s advocate after securing a grant for the State Attorney’s Office to start the program. As a dispatcher with the Key West Police Department, she found it difficult to simply “hang up,” after taking a call from someone who was just beaten up.
Her salary is paid for by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. The facility’s rent and utilities are covered by the city of Key West and victim’s medical expenses are covered by Florida’s Victims of Crime fund.
“They pay for counseling and funerals,” said Woodson. “If she has to take a few weeks off of work they pay for lost benefits … say her teeth get knocked out. They pay for that.”
Expenses not covered by grants and public funding are the small items that add up. Stuff like cleaning supplies, antibiotics, diapers, morning after pills and food including coffee, soda, toys and snacks for the kids – all of which usually come right out of the pockets of advocates like Woodson.
With government assistance shrinking at an alarming rate, the Christina’s Courage board of directors is now taking their mission to the street with an inaugural 5k run, coordinated by the Southernmost Runners Club, that starts and ends at the Sheriff’s Headquarters on Stock Island.
For more info or to register for the race, call Linda Mixon at 305-797-0089 or Jo Socha at 305-393-2466.