For victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, when a traumatic incident occurs, it’s hard to know where to turn. But starting Wednesday, those seeking a safe place to escape can find a haven in downtown Macon.
At 8 a.m., Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia will open a new crisis center open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Crisis Line and Safe House of Middle Georgia has offered shelter, counseling, a crisis hotline and other resources to victims of sexual and domestic abuse for years, but now it will be able to bring all of its efforts under one roof. In addition to the services Crisis Line and Safe House has provided in the past, the new center at 915 Hill Park will offer forensic exams conducted by trained forensic nurses, sexual assault advocacy for victims who have questions about their options, psychological counseling and legal aid.
Dee Simms, executive director of the organization, said offering all of these resources in one space will help make victims feel more comfortable reporting incidences of sexual assault.
“It’s all centered around what the victim needs,” Simms said. “And that is the beauty of having it all in one place and having this type of atmosphere that is not re-traumatizing.”
After a sexual assault or domestic dispute, it can be intimidating for a victim to come forward to police. And even at the emergency room, few nurses are trained specifically to treat victims of sexual assault. At Crisis Line and Safe House’s new center, all of the personnel will specialize in treatment of sexual assault victims.
Sexual Assault Center Director Denise Atkinson will train on-call nurses to do medical assessments and forensic exams, and Sexual Assault Advocacy Coordinator Dottie Stafford will coach volunteer sexual assault advocates to educate victims on the resources available to them.
“We just want to make sure that person is supported from their first acknowledgment of what happened until they're into the healing process and get them connected with community resources because a lot of people don't know about the agency and about what we do until they need us,” Stafford said.
The center’s operating budget is financed by a grant from the Victims of Crime Act, a federal fund that supports victims. But to get the project started, Crisis Line and Safe House relied on local fundraising. Since June 2015, District Attorney David Cooke’s office has given $170,999 to Crisis Line and Safe House. And in May 2017, Cooke allocated $50,000 in asset forfeiture funds seized by his office to cover Atkinson’s salary for several months before the federal grant took effect.
“This money can be used for a number of prosecution-related expenses, but I've tried to concentrate it on helping crime victims in our community. That's where I think it can do the most good,” Cooke said.
For Simms, Atkinson and Stafford, the priority is to educate the public about the resources available to them at the center, whether they’re from Macon or a nearby county without a crisis center of its own.
“Our overriding mission is to ensure that we’re doing something that is beneficial for victims, that helps victims move from being victims to being survivors,” Simms said.
If you or someone you know is suffering, you can call Crisis Line and Safe House's 24-hour hotline at 478-745-9292. To learn more about its resources or find out how you can volunteer, visit its website, www.cl-sh.org.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/samantha.max.9 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.