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Someplace Safe celebrates 35 years of community advocacy

Morris’ Someplace Safe office, now located at 202 Atlantic Avenue, was one of the first Community Advocacy Offices to open in the region in the 1990s. Someplace Safe served around 4,500 people each year, advocating for victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and general crimes. (Brooke Kern/Sun Tribune)

MORRIS – In 2013, Morris’ Someplace Safe office assisted 15 victims of sexual assault and 87 victims of domestic violence.

One of those women, who asked that her name be withheld for the sake of privacy, was assaulted by a former boyfriend in her home in Morris.

The day after the attack, she went to Stevens Community Medical Center to get medical attention for her injuries. The doctor performing the sexual assault exam asked if she wanted to call Someplace Safe for support.

“I said sure, I’d love to have help,” the woman said.

Kim Guse, a crime victim advocate in the Morris Someplace Safe office, came to SCMC and sat with the woman during the exam and interview with a deputy from the Morris Police Department.

Thinking back to that day, the woman said she was grateful for the support.

“You’d be lonely, you’d be lost without Someplace Safe,” she said. “It’d just be terrible. They’re such great help.”

From shelter to community advocacy

Someplace Safe was founded in 1979 as a regional shelter focused on providing emergency housing for women and their children who were victims of domestic violence.

In the 35 years since, the organization has expanded to assist all victims of crime. Each year, they assist around 4,500 people across their program areas.

Someplace Safe’s first big transition took place in 1990 when the the organization opened Community Advocacy Offices in communities around the region after local groups approached the organization to try and do more.

“Those largely came because the shelter just wasn’t able to effectively serve everyone,” said Becki Jordan, Someplace Safe director of development. “Different groups were getting together in a variety of communities, coming together on their own, and approaching Someplace Safe.”

Morris was one of the first offices to open, founded by a group of community members who wanted to provide local help to victims and survivors of sexual violence.

“We grew from the shelter model into a much bigger organization like we are now, serving all victims of crime,” said Jordan.

In 2012, the organization’s original shelter in Fergus Falls was closed as a result of changes in state funding and responding to the changing needs for crime victims. Fewer people were using the shelter, and it became clear that funding could help more people if it was invested in other services, said Jordan.  

At the same time, fewer domestic violence victims needed the kind of long-term housing the shelter provided. Instead, the shelter was replaced by the STEPS – Short Term Emergency Placement Services – program, to help individuals in emergency situations.

Someplace Safe currently has 10 advocacy offices in nine counties, five Parenting Time Centers for supervised visitation and parenting support, and thrift stores in Morris and Alexandria. The organization also continues to operate a 24-hour crisis line.  

Assisting victims through the process

Someplace Safe advocates use a “listen and believe” approach designed to keep the victim or survivor’s best interest front and center, said Jordan.

Advocates can take on a variety of roles and can be involved in both the legal process and emotional recovery following a crime.

In the case of the woman assaulted earlier this year, representatives from Someplace Safe attended all of the court proceedings and meetings with the attorney prosecuting the case. When the victim decided to attend a hearing, Guse sat with her in court.

“She’s been there every time I needed her to go to court, but she’s also been there like a friend – every time you need her you can call,” the woman said.

Guse also encouraged her to start a journal.

“Writing every day – whether it’s good or bad – helps so much,” she said.

Guse and the woman are also working together on a victim impact statement to be read in court when her attacker is sentenced later this summer.

“People get scared and afraid, but knowing that you’re going to have someone with you like Someplace Safe – that’s like worth gold because you know you’ll have someone help you get through everything,” the woman said.

Staying connected to community needs

Someplace Safe tracks their work with crime victims in three categories: domestic violence, sexual assault or general crimes.

In 2013, Someplace Safe offices across the region assisted with 1,866 domestic violence cases, 448 sexual assault cases and 528 general crime cases.

Staff members attended 183 civil hearings and 1,336 hearings and took more than 1,200 client-related calls after hours.

To make sure the organization stays connected to the needs of victims and survivors in the community, Someplace Safe frequently conducts surveys of clients and partners in law enforcement and the schools to identify trends and concerns.

“I don’t think we remain stagnant,” said Jordan. “We are a crime victim service provider, but the needs of victims change and crimes change.”

One recent example took place in the Parenting Time Centers. Originally, the centers were entirely focused on supervised visitation and exchanges. Clients asked for help learning how to do those things on their own, which led to more training and coordinated visits. The centers also offer Skype visits and supervised phone calls to help clients, said Jordan.

Jordan said she has also seen a shift in the way community members view issues of domestic abuse, sexual assault, elder abuse and bullying. Domestic abuse is more visible than it was 35 years ago, and individuals are more willing to admit that these acts of violence happen in our community.

“We can’t do this work on our own – we need to have everyone on the same page working towards safe, healthy communities,” said Jordan. “Just us doing the ‘clean up’ after something’s happened isn’t ever going to make a change.”

Celebrating 35 years in the community

Someplace Safe will be having a public 35th anniversary celebration next Friday, May 9 starting at 5:30 p.m. at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center.

“It’s a chance for us to get together and celebrate, more than anything,” said Jordan. “In this line of work, we don’t always get to celebrate the good. … At the same time, we recognize that our work isn’t done. There’s still a need for our services. We still need our volunteers. We still need community support.”

In addition to dinner, a silent auction, and a performance from Midwest Dueling Pianos, the event will also recognize Someplace Safe’s Community Awards. Award winners being recognized at the event include:

  • survivors Jenna Kettner and Jacki Maethner Jorud;
  • volunteers Michael Blumer, Vendla Block, the Glenwood Potpourri Club, Susan Gooch, Diann Guenther, Greg and Lisa Harris, Lesley Hoplin and Ruth Plaster; and
  • allies Heather Brandborg, Otter Tail County assistant county attorney, Sgt. Jason Reed, Morris Police Department, and Judge Charles Glasrud, Eighth Judicial District.

All of the proceeds from the event will benefit Someplace Safe.