Disturbing Art, Painful Talk Mark Victims' Rights Week Range of Crime: Murder, Drunken Driving, Stalking, Terrorism

Article excerpt

Dark paintings lined the meeting-room wall, describing - through art - the anguish of crime victims and of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends affected by crime and abuse.

A picture of a child on its back trapped in an array of spikes might have spoken loudest. Sharon Harper, the artist of the display, said she had turned to explore another side of life. "I don't find it hard to be loved, to be cared for, to love," Harper said. "I find it hard to address those things that I am holding back."

Harper spoke at a reception Thursday in St. Charles where law-enforcement officials, county leaders, counselors and relatives of crime victims spoke. The reception highlighted activities of Victims' Rights Week in the county.

"It is Victims' Rights Week and also Child Abuse and Awareness Month," said Maggie Cruzen, coordinator of the program to assist crime victims in St. Charles County. "This was a combination to honor victims and to bring education and awareness to the very painful and sobering fact of child abuse and neglect."

Harper's work, often disturbing, seemed to depict the range of crime addressed at the reception: murder, drunken driving, stalking, child abuse, and terrorism. Harper is an artist and assistant professor at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield.

"Often times we don't take time to tell each other: `Yes, we know how you feel,' " Harper said. "I know how hard it is to tell your stories. You're not alone."

Judy Hake of St. Peters and Cheryl LaFollette of St. Charles told their stories. Each mother lost a child to crime. Another story was read about a woman whose life changed when she became a stalking victim. The speakers spoke of pain but also of healing and of defeating violence.

Hake started a chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in St. Charles County and recently began a support group for people affected by drunken drivers. LaFollette wants to start a local group of Parents of Murdered Children.

"It gives me a goal to keep Jenni's name alive," Hake said. "I am committed to help every other victim."

Hake's story begins on Dec. 4, 1992 - or maybe 18 years earlier, when her youngest daughter, Jennifer, was born. On that December evening, Jenni was killed when her car was hit head-on by a 26-year-old mother who had drunk too much at a Christmas party.

Jenni, a cheerleader at Fort Zumwalt South High, intended to take friends out to eat after a basketball game. …