2018 Newsmakers: Kendra Eads

Thursday, August 23, 2018
Kendra Eads, director of the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence (SEMO-NASV).
Photograph by Ben Matthews

Due to mismanagement issues, the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence (SEMO-NASV) was on the brink of disintegration. Then, in 2016, Kendra Eads stepped in as the director.

Eads secured new funding to get the program back on its feet, which allowed the organization to reinstate its counseling program. She brought back counties in SEMO-NASV’s service area who had drifted away from using the program’s services. She secured a bigger building for the organization, complete with tax credits for the landlord. And she brought in new people to revitalize the board.

The organization, under Eads’ leadership, is flourishing, offering advocacy and counseling to children and adults in Southeast Missouri who have experienced sexual or physical abuse or rape. SEMO-NASV specializes in trauma counseling, attends court with the children and provides resources to the non-offending parents. They also provide a 24-hour crisis hotline, rape kits and medical examinations to people who have been abused. Perhaps most importantly, they provide a neutral, safe space for children to be interviewed one time — as opposed to the multiple interviews that took place before this model was utilized — with all of the law officials, counselors and case workers present.

Although it is the most under-reported crime, Eads says one out of 10 U.S. children will experience some form of sexual abuse by age 18, and that statistically the rate is higher for girls than for boys. Last year, SEMO-NASV saw just under 500 children and approximately 150 adults. Eads says this means SEMO-NASV is not seeing all of the people who experience abuse, which is why the prevention program she has implemented in the schools is an important component to getting the word out.

Eads first worked at SEMO-NASV as a college intern. After her first day, she recalls she didn’t think she could go back. By the time she graduated, she knew working with victims of sexual abuse was either something she was never going to do again, or something she was going to do for the rest of her life.

Ultimately, she decided to go back.

“For some reason, I’m able to hear these things, take them in, hold on to them and then let them go,” Eads says of the children’s stories she listens to. “There’s just such a huge need. And it’s not something that people want to talk about, and it’s not something people want to think happens. But we know it happens. So once you know, if you can do something to help, you’ve got to do it.”

On the weekends, Eads drives animal transports throughout Southeast Missouri, doing animal rescue. This, she says, helps her to de-stress from the difficult stories she feels privileged to be trusted with during the week.

“I feel so privileged to be the keeper of these stories from these kids,” Eads says. “There is a certain sense of honor, like, ‘Thank you for trusting me with that. Thank you for opening up to me.’ And I don’t take that lightly at all.”