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Feature: The Haven and the Battle Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault

This story discusses topics regarding sexual assault that some readers may find disturbing.

For over three decades, The Haven has been a staple in educational resources and protective services. With its home in Valdosta, the women’s shelter and sexual assault center services women, children, families and individuals in nine South Georgia counties.

Opened on July 18, 1988, The Haven has a long-rooted history serving as a resource for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Haven offers three different services within three different facilities: Outreach, sexual assault center and emergency shelter.

“Our outreach program helps victims who don’t necessarily have or need shelter; they don’t need to come in and flee,” Community Awareness and Education Coordinator Taylor Strickland said. “They can go to outreach and receive legal or protective services, help with bills, financial assistance and even food.”

The Haven provided 3,011 outreach services in 2023, according to their statistics. These include legal advocacy, financial help and food or clothing assistance, among others.

Along with legal advocacy, The Haven offers emergency shelter for individuals and families fleeing domestic violence situations, primarily women and children. In 2023, the non-profit rehomed 88 families that came to them for assistance.

“We have an emergency shelter that houses 22 women and children fleeing family violence,” Strickland said. “We usually stay max capacity and will often use local hotel rooms to even help with some of our overflow or male victims that come in.”

The Haven’s emergency shelter program allows for temporary placement for victims fleeing domestic violence, and it is one of the first steps in a six-to-eight-week program that helps victims transition to a successful, independent lifestyle free of violence.

“Being right off of I-75, we have some people that just needed a night,” Volunteer Coordinator and Sexual Assault Advocate Peyton Low said. “Then we have some people that when they got here, they don’t, they don’t know anything about the town, and we have some people that have lived here their whole lives.”

Following a day of intake and adjustment, the shelter program helps victims get copies of basic items such as birth certificates or social security cards and offers legal services such as temporary protective orders and transitional assistance, rapid rehousing, counseling and career assistance.

“You basically start over from nothing, and then in six weeks, you have all of your ducks in a row,” Lowe said. “You’re ready to go out on your own and completely start over. That’s the goal.”

Along with its shelter and outreach programs, The Haven acts as a free-standing sexual assault center, one of five in the state of Georgia. According to Strickland, they do everything “in-house” when conducting sexual assault exams, including evidence collection and advocacy services.

“We see roughly well over 2000 clients with all of our programs each year,” Strickland said. “Some of those are fleeing abusive relationships, family violence, domestic violence, and some of those are victims of sexual assault… We see sexual assault that is partner based – their husband or their boyfriend – and stranger rapes, and we also help victims of human trafficking.”

The Haven offers their services not only to the general public but also to VSU students.

“Just because students report sexual assault – even if it happened on campus – campus does not have to be involved,” Lowe said. “Title IX doesn’t have to know; professors don’t have to know. You have the option for them to know, but then you have the option for it to just stay between us and them.”

“I think a lot of people from VSU don’t report because of that,” Strickland argued. “They don’t want to go through the Title IX process, and they don’t want to talk to law enforcement. There’s always an option to do what we call ‘Jane Doe, John Doe’ reporting.”

This form of reporting, according to Strickland, allows a sexual assault victim to go through the process of getting an assault kit done without involving law enforcement, including evidence collection and giving a statement.

“It gives them one year to really think about it and decide, ‘Is this the process I’m going to take? Do I want to report it? Do I want justice?’” Strickland added. “Because that’s not the case for everybody. Some people are not going to be healed from going through the criminal justice process. Some people are going to be healed from going to therapy and moving on from it and leaving VSU. Whatever fits them best, and it gives them that time to think about that.”

According to rainn.org, an anti-sexual violence organization, 54% of sexual assault victims are between the ages of 18 and 35, with the majority being under 30.

“Women ages 18-24 who are college students are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence,” the website reads. “Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are four times more likely… Males ages 18-24 who are college students are approximately five times more likely than non-students of the same age to be a victim of rape or sexual assault.”

The Haven is battling to change these statistics and has been for 36 years.

“Our number one priority is always safety,” Strickland said. “We want to get victims safe first, and then we’ll go from there with whatever else they need. That goes for domestic violence, sexual assault, or trafficking. Safety first, then we’ll address the rest of the stuff.”

For more information, you can find The Haven on their website, https://www.valdostahaven.org/.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of assault or family violence, contact The Haven through their local crisis number, (229) 244-1765, or call the Georgia Crisis Line, 1(800)33HAVEN.

The Haven is located at 1805 Plum St. Valdosta, Georgia, 31601.

Written by Bailey Storey, Co-Editor in Chief. Photos by Bailey Storey.

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