To listen and to guide: Advocate Safehouse Project helps survivors of abuse
Why didn’t they leave?
Julie Olson, Executive Director of the Advocate Safehouse Project (ASP), said this is a question she hears frequently from those outside of an abusive relationship looking in. But the moment a survivor decides to leave is actually when they are in the most danger.
“Well, it’s not that simple. This is not a stranger. This is someone where there’s been a pattern and history of tactics to gain power and control of the (survivor),” Olson said.
The Advocate Safehouse Project is a nonprofit serving survivors of domestic or sexual abuse in the Western Slope region. Resources like their 24-hour help line (which can be accessed by two different numbers, 970-945-4439 & 970-285-0209) have been operated remotely since 1987. The organization also began offering bicultural and bilingual resources in 1996 and will serve undocumented immigrants as well.
Olson said the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected her staff’s work very much but that from April through Sept. there was a 48% increase in calls from survivors reaching out to Advocate Safehouse.
“People might say well, the covid stress and financial stress caused the domestic violence. Nope,it just added to it. There was already the framework for an abusive relationship,” she said.
Mary Ann, an alias for a survivor who did not give her name since her case is ongoing, said it was not until she reached out to Advocate Safehouse that she realized not all abuse is physical.
“One of the things that I think a lot of domestic violence victims go through is the fact that a lot of them aren’t physically abused. (A staff member) sat me down and went through the wheel of domestic abuse which shows your emotions and how you feel and how the perpetrator made you feel,” Mary Ann said.
Olson also made it clear that a volatile relationship is not something that begins with physical harm but instead is a slow encroachment on boundaries between the perpetrator and survivor. This can include pulling a survivor away from her support system so the distance in the relationship makes her less likely to feel comfortable asking for help.
“A lot of domestic violence is not necessarily a crime such as verbal abuse, emotional abuse … a lot of people sometimes think of domestic violence only in terms of what someone can be arrested for,” Olson said.
When survivors reach out to Advocate Safehouse Olson and her staff’s priority is to advocate for them and educate them on what options they currently have. Many times this is pointing them to other nonprofits in the area who have resources that fit their needs.
“We know one size does not fit all and that’s the reality of the services we provide,” Olson said.
Mary Ann is the mother of two children and since working with Advocate Safehouse has been able to move to a new area where she and her family feels safe.
“I think women who have children need to know it’s not safe even if they’re not physical, like the abuse will continue and it will eventually affect your children, so get help,” Mary Ann said.
Financial independence is something that can play a role in why a survivor doesn’t leave the situation, but Advocate Safehouse can help with the cost of rent and living until women are back on their feet again. This is how Mary Ann was able to relocate successfully.
“The safe house has helped me with rent so I am able (to) get myself and my children therapy and appointments needed. They have sat in court for me when I couldn’t or was scared to go to be my eyes and ears. They have sat with me to meet lawyers to make sure my voice was heard,” Mary Ann wrote in an email.
Mary Ann also said survivors should reach out even if it feels like no one is listening.
“Please, please reach out. Reach out. I know it is so hard to do that … please there is somebody that will listen to you. You just have to keep trying and trying to have somebody listen to you because eventually somebody will … Keep going. I ran into a lot of situations where I didn’t feel like I was getting help from the police officers so I would keep calling and I eventually did and I have a wonderful support system now.” Mary Ann said.
According to the CDC 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience domestic abuse at some point in their life. Olson said if you know someone who may be going through this it is important to listen, offer help where you can and to allow the survivor to decide what their next steps will be in contacting resources or seeking guidance.
“We don’t rescue people — we help them. Survivors have to do it on their own. It’s their journey not ours.”
– Access the 24-hour hotline by calling the numbers 970-945-4439 or 970-285-0209. Both will connect you to the same resources.
– Click here to donate to the Advocate Safehouse Project and support the help they provide to the community.
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