Advocate Safehouse supports the most vulnerable people

Kay VasilakisGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – “I feel like we’re a safety net for the community and for the survivors to start their healing,” said Advocate Safehouse Project Executive director Julie Olson. “People in abusive relationships or sexual assault need to speak to someone who is totally confidential. They need someone to talk to about their partner, and help them to make decisions. If we didn’t exist, many people wouldn’t get these types of services. Unless there is child abuse involved, we don’t report calls to anybody, so victims feel safe talking to us.” The Advocate Safehouse Project is the only program in Garfield County offering comprehensive services for victims of domestic and sexual violence and their families. Now in its 20th year, Advocate Safehouse had 400 clients through Sept. 30 and continues its support with crisis intervention, counseling, case management, advocacy and safehousing.The organization empowers survivors of domestic violence to develop and nurture healthy relationships. It provides face-to-face and phone contacts for victims who are dealing with the crisis of divorce or sexual assault. The Advocate Safehouse Projects’ volunteers respond to calls on the ASP 24-Hour Help Line, which provides assistance to victims of sexual abuse.Many people just call to find out what their options are. Choices might include counseling, contacting an attorney, getting a protection order, taking a break from their relationship, or not. Sometimes people can’t identify those options for themselves.Sometimes, the problem is not just physical violence, but verbal abuse. “Mary” came to the safehouse because friends encouraged her to come in for a break from her verbally abusive husband. She was a professional woman, was embarrassed by being there, and she didn’t really think she belonged. But after she read a book the volunteers gave her about verbal abuse, she was shocked to realize she’d been living in an abusive relationship for over 10 years. “We’re not here to pass judgment,” Olson said. “Statistically, survivors leave six to ten times before they finally leave. For some, that whole process could be quick, but for others, that could take years and years.

“For lots of reasons, leaving is easier said than done,” she continued. “One of the most dangerous times in a woman’s life is when she’s in the process of leaving. It could result in death.”It’s difficult for anyone when a relationship is ending, even those in a healthy relationship. But when one person has a lot of power and control over the other individual, it’s much harder because of the abusive dynamics. Abusers know at some level that what they’re doing works to get their way. Appropriate counseling may be suggested, because it is hard to realize what they are doing may be hurting someone they love. Change is hard. “The lady in the story had no concept she was in an abusive relationship,” Olson said. “For me, there’s hope that she can make some major changes in her life to feel better about herself and become an independent person. Sometimes victims wonder what is wrong with them, but the problem is not about them, it’s about the abuse in the relationship. The issue is what are they willing to do to make some changes in the relationship, and that’s when some difficult decisions have to be made.””One of the things we’re going to be doing in 2008 is the Safehouse Facelift, which will be a refurbishing of the safehouse,” Olson said. “It has been used by so many different families, and it is a bit tired. The facelift’s goal is to make the safehouse more “homey” for the families who reside in it.”

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