Aug 07

Mike Fonda: A life fighting sexual violence

January 28, 2015 by The Hudsonian Student Newspaper – Andrea Currie, News Editor

Mike Fonda, a retired Cohoes Police officer who specialized in sexual assault crimes, now does counseling at Hudson Valley once a week.

Mike Fonda, a retired Cohoes Police officer who specialized in sexual assault crimes, now does counseling at Hudson Valley once a week.

“This is a perfect retirement job for a guy like me,” said Mike Fonda, a retired Detective Sergeant from the Cohoes Police Department, who works as a Prevention Educator for the Sexual Assault and Crime Victims Assistance Program (SACVAP) at Samaritan Hospital in Troy.  Fonda’s work takes him all over the Capital Region: he teaches personal safety and self-esteem at K-12 schools; he conducts the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program at seven YMCAs; he offers the MVP program to sports teams at local colleges; he conducts the MVP program with inmates at Rensselaer County Jail; and on Wednesday afternoons from 12 – 4 p.m., he offers in-person counseling at the Hudson Valley Health Services office in room 146 of Fitzgibbons Hall.

When Fonda started working at the Cohoes Police Department, he was assigned the traditional role for incoming officers: juvenile officer. “You deal with everything from stolen bikes to the sex crimes,” he said. When a new person joined the department, Fonda asked to keep the job, and when he was promoted to sergeant, he requested to keep working on sex crimes.  He said that he thought he had the right demeanor for the job. “I had other police officers come up to me and say, ‘you know, you’re relaxed, you’re fun, people feel safe with you, … they trust you. So I just stayed with it.’”

In 2007, Fonda was hired by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to track down the records of sex offenders who moved in from out of state. There is no central repository for these files, so he had to speak with other police officers, agencies across the country, and, often, call sex offenders and interview them about their convictions.  Fonda said that offenders often lied to him during these interviews. “I let them blame the victim. But in that victim-blaming is the truth,” he said, “I’ve learned to give people enough rope to hang themselves.”

Fonda briefly worked with SACVAP before joining the state and had stayed in contact with them. In early 2011, they told him they had a prevention educator position open. He jumped at the chance.  “Sometimes money isn’t—you know. It’s okay, but I feel like I need to be doing something,” Fonda said. His state job was a good job and paid well. “But you’re basically in an office working with a fax machine, a telephone, and your computer.”  He said the prevention educator position was a perfect fit for him, since he has a master’s degree in Community Psychology, has taken many counseling courses, and with his law enforcement background, can talk about the subject from experience.  “I know there’s a lot of people out there wondering, did I do something wrong? Who’ll believe me? … Well, I would, ’cause I know. I’ve seen that, the cases with the state police and the Cub Scout leaders and the Kiwanis clubs,” said Fonda.

He said that his favorite part of his job is going out into schools and providing information. He said that he focuses on victim-blaming and why people shouldn’t blame themselves for being assaulted. “I’m hoping to see some lights go on with people saying, Okay, so it wasn’t just me,” said Fonda.  Fonda said that the MVP program gives him an opportunity to address men. “These issues, they seem like they’re women’s issues, because you might say, women get raped,” he said, “But it’s men who rape women. And it’s not every guy who rapes a woman.” He says that the MVP program challenges men to speak out and condemn sexual assault. He speaks about men who’ve been sexually assaulted as well and reassures them that they did nothing wrong.

Fonda said that over the time he’s been doing this work, he has observed a change in public attitudes towards sexual assault and rape. “To me, it feels like it’s finally getting the attention it deserves,” he said, “It feels like we’re on a bubble, that all this stuff is about to burst and people are going to know about it, they’re going to understand it, and they’re not going to look at it the same way as … saying, I’m broken, or, it’s the victim’s fault, or … how can you accuse these celebrities of doing that?”  Fonda said that sexual assault is never about sex: “It’s about the power. It’s about having that power to do what they want.”

Fonda said that he is proud of SACVAP. “It’s just phenomenal work. It’s not sexy, it’s not glamorous, people don’t want to talk about it, but every day, we’re there, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said, referring to the agency’s sexual assault hotline.  SACVAP offers in-person services at Samaritan Hospital at 2215 Burdett Ave. in Troy, including short-term counseling; therapy free of charge; and legal advocates for survivors.

The agency also has opportunities for volunteers. Winter 2015 Volunteer Training starts Feb. 3. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and be willing to sign up for at least three hotline shifts monthly, commit to at least six months with the agency, attend monthly in-service meetings, and complete at least 10 hours of community education.

Interested parties should contact Jamie Seastrand by phone at 518-271-3140 or via email at jamie.seastrand@sphp.com.

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