What comes after domestic violence and sexual assault may be a little easier to handle, thanks to a program at the Bay Area Women's Center in Bay City.
Last spring, employees and volunteers at the Women's Center worked together to create a Survivor Interview Room. They painted calming colors on the walls, hung inspirational art, and furnished it with cozy couches and lamps. The room is the latest addition to the Women's Center's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program.
Through the SANE program, survivors of sexual assault are examined at the Women's Center. The program verifies that the survivor is healthy or if further medical attention is needed. The program tries to reduce the survivor's stress, giving them an ideal environment to receive help. For example, in a traditional emergency room setting, patients are required to repeatedly state the reason for their visit to various medical staff. At the Women’s Center, staff are able to provide a more private and understanding environment.
Staff at the Bay Area Women's Center pitched in to paint and furnish the room, creating a calm and stress-reducing atmosphere.The Survivor Interview Room extends that service, giving survivors a non-threatening space to meet with local law enforcement to report an assault. It is believed to be one of the first interview rooms in the state of Michigan.
“Up until this point, the law enforcement officers, regardless of agency, had two choices. To do the interview in a car – and that’s intimidating and retraumatizing for a lot of reasons,” explained Jeremy Rick, Executive Director at the Bay Area Women’s Center. “The other option they had was to put them into an interrogation room. An interrogation room, by definition, is supposed to do the opposite of keeping somebody calm.”
The interview room is a converted space at the Women’s Center. Staff workers pitched in together to paint and furnish the room. The space was designed as a calm and stress-reducing environment, ideal for survivors to be interviewed. The room was made available in April.
An open house was held for local law enforcement to see that the space is available, with local law enforcement responding positively to the room.
The interview room is an additional step in establishing a secure location for survivors to receive aid. The group aims to be a greater resource in the community, providing care for every survivor.
In Bay County alone, each year more than 200 sexual assault or abuse cases are reported. And, it is important to remember that only 20% of all sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement.
In 2017, over 80,000 cases of domestic violence were reported in Michigan, with 1,252 of those reported happening in the Bay County. Over 3,000 cases of rape were reported that same year. Many more cases go unreported every year. Domestic violence and sexual assault programs are the greatest resources available to survivors, ensuring their safety and guiding them in the process of recovery.
The Bay Area Women’s Center is a life-changing facility for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the Bay and Arenac counties. Established in 1975, the Center has provided resources and shelter for over 15,000 women, children, and men. While the group mostly works with women, services are available to men, as well.
Rick has worked at the Center for six years. Rick was drawn to working with programs like the Women’s Center after meeting his wife, Heather, a survivor of long-term domestic and sexual violence.
“My interest in ensuring that organizations were accessible to victims was something that developed in me as a result of being in love and marrying my wife,” said Rick, “She didn’t have this kind of organization available to her for counseling, for support, or for therapy when she was going through all of this during her early and teenage years – even until she was 18 years old. I decided that I wanted to do something in honor of my wife and her sisters.”
The Bay Area Women's Center is one of the first in the state to build an interview room for local law enforcement to use. The room is designed to provide a comfortable, safe space.Rick works along with the dedicated staff at the Women’s Center, offering services free of charge. The help survivors receive include crisis counseling, one-on-one therapy sessions, and support groups. The Center works with clients on legal matters as well, providing clients with legal and court process information.
The group works with all cases of abuse, including physical, mental, emotional, and financial. The Women’s Center has a 32-bed capacity for emergency shelter, providing meals and clothing for their clients.
“Our mission overall is to eliminate domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Lindsay Richardson, the Director of Development at the Women’s Center, “We do that through providing services to victims of those crimes, but also by doing preventative and awareness programming.”
Awareness is the most important way to prevent future abuse. The Prevention and Education Program teaches children about many sexual and domestic concerns, including harassment, safe dates, and healthy relationships.
To learn more about the Women’s Center, click here to visit the organization's website. On the website, the center explains how to donate funds or materials. Volunteer work is available at the Women’s Center as well. Volunteers for the crisis hotline receive full training, allowing for staff members to spend more time with their clients.
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence or sexual assault, the Women’s Center is available 24/7. The best way to receive help is by calling the Women’s Center crisis hotline, at (800) 834-2098.