Dottie Stafford, sexual assault advocacy coordinator at Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia, answers questions about her organization.
Q: First, what is the Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia?
A: Our mission is providing crisis intervention and comprehensive support services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in times of crisis and violence. Our aim is to empower victims to begin healing and to speak.
Q: What are some primary services?
A: We operate a crisis hotline 24 hours a day at 478-745-9292. We’re advocates for victims at emergency departments during forensic medical examinations following rapes and other sexual assaults. How we do that is an important part of what we do in Houston County now. We also provide victims with comfort kits with clothing, toiletries and information packets. Clothes are frequently taken as evidence so victims need clothes just to leave the facility.
Q: More services?
A: We support victims during follow-up medical exams and accompany them and provide support during law enforcement interviews and court proceedings. We assist filing for crime victim compensation and offer referrals for ongoing support counseling and have information and referrals to other community resources. Plus, we’re supportive of other family members and significant others. Community and individual education is another part of what we do, too. That includes seeing the cycle of violence and its prevention.
Q: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month so that’s the focus here and mainly as it applies to Houston and Peach counties. Your agency is new here, right?
A: We’ve served Bibb County since 1978, serving Macon-Bibb and surrounding areas. When sexual assault support services were no longer available here when Hodac closed, Georgia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council made contact and asked us to pick up this service area. Obviously, we didn’t want to see the area not have such services so we came to provide them and cooperate with other agencies. For instance, in Macon we have a safe house with support services but the Salvation Army does that here so we’re not repeating that. We’re cooperating with them and others.
Q: You’ve been Crisis Line & Safe House’s sexual assault advocacy coordinator based in Macon for years, but you and others there are well familiar with Houston County, right?
A: That’s true. I worked in Houston County for many years and still live in Centerville. Many remember my father, Sherrill Stafford, who worked at Robins Air Force Base and was Centerville’s first mayor. Then he was Houston County’s commission chairman for years.
Q: Back to awareness, just what is sexual assault?
A: It’s defined in different ways and takes different forms, but one thing is constant: it’s never the victim’s fault. Sexual assault describes non-consensual sexual acts as proscribed by law. It involves things from sexual harassment to sexual stalking, peeping, exposing and flashing, forcing someone to pose for sexual pictures, fondling, unwanted sexual touching or penetration, attempted rape, rape, marital rape — those are some examples.
Q: How do you define rape?
A: If you say no or don’t give consent, it’s rape. If you’re unable to give consent, it’s rape.
Q: Can you talk about the hotline and the forensic exam facility?
A: The 24/7 hotline opens the way for services and support for the safe house in Macon, for domestic violence support and overall for sexual assault services support. Essentially, we’re here to help, support and advocate for victims. That means providing a listening ear and counseling, helping with referrals and standing in support of victims through encounters with law enforcement and the courts, providing the forensic exams after an assault whether done in a hospital or at our facility. Basically, we’re there for victims — they don’t have to go through it alone. No one has to be alone. We’re here at all hours. Contact comes through the hotline or other emergency agencies.
Q: So if there’s a need, a crisis, a question, contact you?
Q: Can you describe more fully your sexual advocacy team and forensic exams.
A: Specifically, the sexual advocacy team is trained staff and volunteer advocates on-call 24 hours a day to assist those affected by sexual violence. I didn’t say it before, but a person answers our hotline, you don’t have to punch a bunch of buttons. We assist in the medical community, the justice system and public and private agencies giving need-based services to survivors. Follow up support may include counseling from trained, certified counselors.
Q: The forensic exams?
A: Legally speaking, an exam after a sexual assault, a rape, is crucial but traumatic for victims. We have trained, experienced forensic nurses who fulfill the legal aspects of receiving a sexual assault kit and are sensitive to individual’s needs. Denise Atkinson, our sexual assault center director, is such a nurse with more than 20 years’ experience in this. We go to emergency rooms to do exams or victims come to our sexual assault center which is preferable and new in Houston County as of March. We hope to have a similar one open in Macon by this summer. It’s a confidential and comfortable environment where the exam can be done away from chaotic emergency rooms. Law enforcement conduct interviews here as well. Then support services are available.
Q: This is all immediately following an assault?
A: Yes, but the general thought now is exams can be done up to 10 days later. And other services for victims have no time limit. Call the hotline. It could be something from years ago that you’re still dealing with and need help. We’re here.
Q: That seems the point of a lot of what you say. There are specific services, but mainly it’s being available?
A: We’d like to live in a world without sexual assault but until we do we’re here with help and someone to talk to 24/7. No one has to go through this alone.
Q: Volunteers are part of your program. Aside from calling the hotline number, 478-745-9292, for emergencies or to contact your office, how do people find out more?
A: Our website is at www.cl-sh.org.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.