Ex-police officer heads Women's Support Services
Although new to her job as director of Women's Support Services (WSS), Carrie White brings to the position familiarity and experience with the agency and its programs. As an Oak Bluffs police officer from 2000 to 2007, Ms. White often worked closely with the WSS staff on domestic violence and sexual assault cases.
Ms. White assumed her position as director on Sept. 4, joining WSS staff members Sally Callahan and Erika Dowling in helping to provide domestic violence and rape crisis support services at Martha's Vineyard Community Services (MVCS).
In a press release from MVCS announcing her hiring, Ms. White outlined some of her goals. "What I want us to do is to empower women by helping them figure out their strengths and skills," she said. "I want us to help them picture what a better life would look like. Building a better life is more than how to get away from one guy."
Carrie White, director of Women's Support Services. Photo by Ralph Stewart
In a phone call last week, Ms. White provided an overview of WSS clients and services. In addition to women who are coping with recent domestic violence incidents or sexual assaults, she explained, WSS helps many women who have been or are involved in an ongoing abusive relationship.
"It may be verbal or psychological - it's not always physical," Ms. White said. "They may not be ready to walk out the door, but they're looking for some other resources. They're on their way to moving on."
To help sexual assault victims, Ms. White said the WSS staff goes right to the hospital to provide support and offers follow-up services. The staff also works with women who are victims of sexual abuse but have not reported it and those who were sexually abused as children.
"We're supposed to be crisis-oriented," Ms. White said. However, as she explained, "Women might be in crisis because of a domestic violence or sexual assault incident, or it may be a case where someone's financial situation changes, and that triggers the emotional side of what's going on in the relationship. So they may be involved in an ongoing domestic violence relationship, but it can become a crisis when something else changes."
In cases where long-term care and counseling is needed, WSS refers women to other Island agencies. For any woman who may be wondering whether or not to call WSS, Ms. White said, "Even if we can't directly help you or it's not exactly what you need, we can always find resources for somebody. We can always say, this is a place that can help you."
WSS offers emergency services, direct services and advocacy, and education and training. Victims of domestic violence and sexual assault can access emergency services and safe homes by calling the WSS 24-hour hotline. Direct services and advocacy include crisis and short-term counseling; support groups; medical, legal, and court advocacy; and information and referral services. All services are free and confidential.
Once a month or every few months, the WSS staff meets with representatives from all of the Island police departments, a practice Ms. White said she plans to continue. She also wants to focus on staff care.
"I'm very aware of the emotional toll this job takes, especially after working in the police department," Ms. White explained. "Staff members have to take care of themselves, because it's tough work."
Ms. White's career on Martha's Vineyard came about through family members who have lived on the Island for many years. Ms. White, a self-described "Army brat," was born and grew up in New York.
She attended the University of Iowa where she obtained a bachelor's of arts degree in psychology, followed by a master's degree in psychology from Northeastern University. Ms. White focused her college studies on serial killers and sexual deviants, with a goal of working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) behavioral sciences unit.
Unfortunately, the FBI instituted a hiring freeze around the time she planned to apply for a job.
Advised to get some law enforcement experience while waiting for an opening, Ms. White decided to head to Martha's Vineyard to join her mother, Sharon Giacomini-O'Neil, and her sister, Tracy Oteri. At her sister's suggestion, she applied and was hired as a special officer at the Oak Bluffs Police Department.
After working as a special officer for three years, Ms. White was hired as a full-time police officer and attended the police academy in Weymouth. Continuing her professional education, she completed a certificate in forensic criminology and was certified by the Massachusetts State Police as a rape investigator.
Once certified, Officer White worked as the Oak Bluffs Police Department's sex crimes investigator and sex offender compliance officer. Tasked with keeping track of sex offenders on the Island, she served as her department's representative to the Cape and Islands Sex Offender Task Force, formed in 2005, with a goal of improving and coordinating sex offender registries. Although most of the task force members are police officers or civilians who work in police departments, Ms. White said she would like to reestablish her connection with the task force in her new job and "stay in the loop."
Ms. White also served as the Oak Bluffs Police Department's school resource officer at Oak Bluffs School and Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, providing community outreach and education programs. In addition to talking with students about important issues such as Internet safety and bullying, she presented forums for parents on protecting children from sex offenders.
Since WSS also offers community education about issues of abuse and violence against women, Ms. White said she would like to expand outreach programs about domestic violence and sexual assault prevention in the schools and in elderly housing facilities. In the MVCS press release, Ms. White said, "I also want to let teenagers know that we are here for them so that they will recognize us as a resource or mentors before they become a victim."
When asked about her former goal of working for the FBI, Ms. White said that changed after she met and married her husband Tony, an Island paramedic, in 2005.
Although she had plenty of law enforcement experience by the time the FBI lifted its hiring freeze, Ms. White said she realized she really liked being on the Island with her family and did not want to relocate. "Working for the FBI is like the military - they can tell you to be ready to move to Utah in two months - and I just got to the point where I wasn't willing to do that," she said.
After the Whites' son James was born in February 2006, Ms. White returned to work as a full-time police officer from June to October. She then worked as a special officer part-time from October 2006 until she left the department in May 2007. She also started a business and taught dance for children, teens, and adults for a year.
Last summer, Ms. White worked for the YMCA as the summer programs director. When she saw an ad in the paper for the WSS director's position, she applied. "I had thought about working here as a staff member when I first left the police department," Ms. White said. "So when I saw the director's position was open, that appealed to me, as far as my supervisor experience at the Y and working at the same level."
The WSS 24-hour hotline number is 508-696-SAFE (7233) and the office number 508-693-7900, ext. 221.