Beginning Jan. 1, nine organizations across Indiana began expanding their services and creating policies and procedures to become Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault-identified rape crisis centers, thanks to financial support from the Sexual Assault Victim Assistance Fund.
Batesville-based Safe Passage is one of those nine, according to ICESA chief operating officer Kristen Pulice. Safe Passage's executive director Jane Yorn "recognized that sexual assault services were greatly needed in the community. Her understanding of the community’s needs, passion to serve sexual assault victims, and the support and commitment of the organization's board of directors has made Safe Passage Inc. an excellent choice to become a rape crisis center in the state."
The center has been named Safe Place and is a division of Safe Passage. Its leader, director of sexual assault services Katie Hoffman, began the new position April 30.
Born and raised in Greensburg, the Ball State University graduate with a psychology degree has lived in Muncie for the past 15 years, spending eight years working at a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter. "I wasn't even looking for a new job when this one came up. This is my dream job."
When Hoffman learned she would be Safe Place's first director, she recalls, "Honestly, I cried a little. I was so overwhelmed that it was something I always said I wanted to do." The mom of three, 9, 7 and 4, is packing now to move to Greensburg. "This fall I will also be starting my master's program in nonprofit leadership and management" at the online WGU.
Even though the center doesn't officially open until October, Hoffman and the other employee, sexual assault advocate and prevention specialist Sarah Balana Molter, have been busy organizing and laying the groundwork for the facility.
The website they have created (https://www.safeplaceforhope.org) has a very smart resources section, with information about sexual violence and human trafficking and advice for survivors, patients, friends and family, parents and the LGBTQ+ community.
Hoffman reports, "We have had a few (sexual assault) survivors who have come through Safe Passage, the shelter portion. I have met with a couple."
The director hopes to hire another advocate by late summer or early fall and a third one in early 2019. Because Safe Place will serve persons in the same counties Safe Passage does – Ripley, Franklin, Dearborn, Jefferson, Ohio and Switzerland – the two new hires will work at satellite offices, perhaps in Madison and Lawrenceburg. The goal is to respond to a survivor within an hour, easier to attain if employees are spread out geographically.
The duo are preparing for emergency responses. According to Hoffman, "Ideally those calls will come from law enforcement or the hospital," then one of them will go out and assist. A Safe Place employee will help explain the exam, what the survivor's rights are and ease his or her fears through that process. Hoffman adds, "We have the ability to do legal advocacy with them. We can't give legal advice."
"Maybe they don't want to go to the hospital," but reported the crime to police. "Someone could also just call in and say, 'This happened a couple hours ago.'" Usually Safe Place workers would try to persuade victims a hospital visit is a good idea as evidence can be collected for three to five days after a crime. In addition, "we would want them to be checked out for potential sexually transmitted infections, pregnancies and injuries."
The director is working to form Sexual Assault Response Teams. She points out, "Every county in Indiana is supposed to have" one.
According to Hoffman, "It brings all the important players to the same table." Ashlee Satterfield, a Ripley County deputy prosecutor, was hired last September to focus on violence against women, particularly domestic violence and sexual assault. She drafted a memorandum of understanding for a Ripley County SART, which was signed recently. The director reports, "The idea is for us to all be on the same page. We have a general idea what that process will look like and what will work with our hospital, our law enforcement, our prosecutors and our agency."
"None of our other service areas has one, but that is on our very long to-do list" to ensure victims are getting the best possible services.
"There are lots of different ways to reach us": the Safe Place phone number, 812-932-SAFE (7233); Safe Passage 24/7 toll-free number 877-733-1990 and the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE operated by RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization.
Sometimes calls come 10, 20 or even 30 years after a sexual crime. Survivors "may not have been in a place to process the assault at that time. Something happens down the road that triggers that memory ... The biggest difference we see between domestic violence and sexual assault services is that emotional support piece." Domestic violence victims need tangible items, such as housing, employment, food and child care. "Sexual assault survivors may need those things as well ... but more often than not, it's an emotional support piece they're looking for."
Many survivors will arrive at Safe Place with feelings of shame, guilt and self-blaming. Hoffman and her team will assure them, "We believe what happened to you. How can we help you? What do we need to do to get you further on your journey of healing?"
In addition to calling for help, a support group is being formed. The 10-week Bible study group called Choosing Victory is being facilitated by Tory Flynn and was created to bring hope and healing out of tragedy resulting from sexual assault. To register or for more information email ChoosingVictory@safepassageinc.org, call 812-363-6133, or visit the Facebook page by searching for Choosing Victory: A Safe Place Ministry.
Upcoming events to educate the public are in the works. According to Hoffman, "Jane is actually working on a MeToo conversation in the community. We want people talking about sexual violence so it's not such a secret, it's not so taboo."
Volunteering is encouraged so that Safe Place can offer many services. The website says, "Whether you are a college student looking to build your resume, a retiree, a stay-at-home parent looking to fill your time or a busy professional who is passionate about Safe Place's mission, we can find an opportunity for you."
Some tasks require in-depth training:
• Crisis line operator: Listen, assess and guide callers to the appropriate resources.
• Crisis response advocate: Provide information, support and advocacy to victims of sexual assault at local hospital emergency rooms or other safe locations.
• Child care volunteer: Provide care to youth while parent or guardian is attending a support group.
Other tasks require minimal training:
• Special events volunteer: Assist with the planning and preparation for fundraisers and awareness events.
• Professional services (such as legal or business): Assist the organization or clients with specialized services.
• Fundraiser planning support: Assist with campaigning for the organization.
• Administrative volunteer: Assist with filing, mail preparations, data entry and other jobs.
Volunteer coordinator Donna Huffmaster may be contacted at 812-933-1990 and a volunteer form may be downloaded at https://www.safeplaceforhope.org/volunteer.
Yorn points out that in order to help sexual assault survivors, "we start by believing. Many individuals live with the pain of sexual abuse or an assault that happened in their past and have never had a safe place to share and process this agonizing experience. Our free, confidential help will be available to anyone at any time in their life, regardless of whether the abuse occurred two hours, two years or 22 years ago.
"We also believe that through strong prevention programs, intervention strategies and education, many acts of violence can be avoided. There is sexual assault program staff dedicated to this work within schools and the community."
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.
Guiding the organization
On the Safe Place Board of Directors are President Trish Hunter, Batesville; Vice President Matt Wessel, Harrison, Ohio; Secretary Angela Scudder R.N., M.S.N., Milan; Treasurer Jamie Anderson, Batesville; past President Mick Wilz, Brookville; and members Bill Betts, Shane Tucker, J.D., and Jane Yorn (honorary), Batesville; Vance Patton, Versailles; Tina Bojack, Lawrenceburg; Cari Kettman, West Harrison; Karen Mirick, Greensburg; Mary Duffey, R.N., M.B.A., Hebron, Kentucky; and John Spence, Harrison, Ohio.