CADA’ s director says adieu

Margie Porter, director of Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse, poses for a photo. She is retiring.  - Jessie Stensland / The Record
Margie Porter, director of Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse, poses for a photo. She is retiring.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / The Record

Margie Porter sees a side of the Whidbey Island community that is hidden from most residents.

As the executive director of Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse, she’s seen thousands of victims of violence come through the doors.

She’s helped women, children and a growing number of men and senior citizens; last year alone, the agency provided services to 1,084 clients.

She’s worked with women fleeing abusers who are so dangerous that the victims have to be hidden away in other counties. She’s aided children who have suffered horrific abuse and neglect. She’s been witness to heart-breaking cycles of abuse, but has also seen people piece their lives back together.

Porter will soon be passing the baton to a new director, but her mark on the agency she’s headed for a decade is indelible.

“This agency is in a good place,” she said, “and it’s a good time to step down and let some fresh blood come in.”

The board of directors have offered the director job to a candidate, Porter explained, but the details have not been finalized.

Detective Sgt. Teri Gardner with the Oak Harbor Police Department said she’s worked closely with Porter and said she’s greatly improved the services offered to victims.

“She’s done more in the support of women in this community than anyone else I know,” Gardner said.

The agency, commonly known as CADA, wasn’t in a very good place when Porter first started on an interim basis which eventually became permanent.

In 2004, CADA had gone through several directors in just a couple of years. The board of directors for the nonprofit caused an uproar by firing the longtime director a couple of years prior.

When she started, CADA was located in a small, sweltering, hard-to-find office above a pizza restaurant in Coupeville. The agency had “zero dollars” in its budget and no credit line, Porter said. Victims of sexual abuse often had to travel to hospitals off the island for special sexual-assault exams.

Nowadays, a lot has changed for the better.

Trish Rose, president of the volunteer board of directors, said CADA’s reputation extends beyond Island County.

“Margie is widely recognized as the go-to person in our state for an effective program and her efforts have been benchmarked by other like organizations,” she said in an email. “The exemplary reports we get after our yearly audits are a testament to that fact.”

CADA now operates out of a professional suite of offices in Oak Harbor, one floor down from the Department of Social and Health Services offices. With a combination of grants and donations, Porter built a 3.5-month budget reserve and has a credit line in case of emergencies.

When she started, 26 percent of the budget was going to administrative costs; now it’s just 7 percent.

Porter said she realized it was unacceptable to expect victims of rape to travel to a distant and unfamiliar place to have medical personnel perform an exam to preserve evidence. So when Tom Tomasino became CEO of Whidbey General Hospital, she approached him with her concerns.

Porter and Tomasino worked together to provide nurses with Sexual Assault Nurse Exam, or SANE, training.

Not long after she started, CADA partnered with the Island County Housing Authority and the Opportunity Council to build an emergency shelter and transitional housing for women and children. Marjie’s House is named after Marjorie Monnett, a Freeland resident who was murdered in a 2002 domestic violence incident.

Porter secured a grant to house people who are fleeing domestic violence or are homeless because of domestic violence.

The shelter provided 1,577 “bed nights” last year.

Porter said she’s very proud of the relationship she’s built with community partners, particularly law enforcement. Such partnerships weren’t particularly healthy a decade ago, she said.

But most of all, Porter has succeeded in building the services provided by CADA, largely due to her awareness of what the needs are and her ability to obtain grant funding.

The two main programs offered by CADA, said Porter, are victim services and advocacy-based counseling.

CADA employs advocates who work with victims to identify and address a wide variety of needs and to provide things like crisis assistance, emotional support, safety planning, shelter options and referrals to other agencies and providers. Advocates aren’t therapists, she said, but “good listeners who can help people decide what to do.”

The advocates don’t judge, but try to help people understand their options and rights. One important point, she said, is that victims don’t have to report anything to law enforcement to get help.

Legal advocates help victims understand their rights and navigate the court system. Medical advocates respond to the hospital.

CADA has a crisis line for victims who want to speak to an advocate about domestic violence or sexual assault. The number is 1-800-215-5669 or 360-675-CADA.

The agency puts on a “domestic violence impact panel,” Porter said.

District court judges order people convicted in misdemeanor domestic assault cases to attend the educational program.

Porter said she’s most proud of the school-age programs the agency has built from the ground up. CADA employs two community educators who present the “Hands & Words Should Not Hurt” program at elementary schools. Children take an anti-bullying pledge to speak up if someone is being bullied, to reach out to others who are being helped and to keep their hands and words from hurting others.

In middle schools, the message is about healthy relationships and bullying prevention. The high school program focuses on “safe dates.”

“My hope is that someday there won’t be a CADA,” she said. “If we reach the children now, maybe there won’t be a need in the future.”

Rose agrees that Porter will be remembered for her work in the schools.

“If I had to name one thing as a shining example of Margie’s legacy, it is that she crafted a team of extremely talented educators and advocates who are effecting positive change in our schools,” Rose said.

“By getting into the schools and raising awareness at a young age about issues such as bullying and safe dating, Margie not only focused on victims but worked to prevent victimization.”


Sexual Assault Awareness Month

In commemoration of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Whidbey General Hospital and Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse are presenting a series of programs to highlight the problem of sexual assault in the community and discuss resources available for those impacted by it.

The month seeks to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence, which is a major public health, human rights and social justice issue.

The statistics are staggering. Rape remains the most under-reported crime in America, according to the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center and various other studies. One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives, according to a Centers of Disease Control and Prevention study.

Three presentations will be held in April featuring speakers from Whidbey General and CADA.

— 5:30 p.m., Monday, April 14, Freeland Library

— 5:30 p.m., Monday, April 21, Coupeville Library

— 5:30 p.m., Monday, April 28, Oak Harbor Library

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