Efforts to End Domestic Violence and Help Victims of Sexual Assault

The Spencer Frye Fellowship team recently had the opportunity to visit The Cottage, an Athens-based non-profit devoted to child advocacy and combating sexual assault.  While there, we had the opportunity to hear about the organization’s work, recent changes in the services it provides, and possible challenges it may face in the future. Through our visit, we learned a great deal about the important role played by local non-profits in fighting the battle against the twin scourges of child abuse and sexual assault, and we also learned about future measures that should be taken to ensure the continued viability of such non-profits.

The scope of The Cottage’s efforts is truly impressive. During the past year, it worked with over 700 children, families, and individuals impacted by child abuse and sexual assault in Clarke, Oconee, Madison and Oglethorpe Counties. It helped these people by operating a 24/7 crisis hotline and by offering educational and prevention programs, crisis intervention services, and centers for ongoing support.  In addition, The Cottage assisted numerous domestic violence victims by helping them and their families relocate to safer locations. Through all of these efforts, The Cottage has been able to ensure that those suffering from abuse have adequate access to necessary services.

One of the crown jewels of The Cottage’s efforts is the Family Protection Center, which was created in 2005 and offers services for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault. According to Sally Sheppard, the Executive Director of the Cottage, the Family Protection Center was the second of its kind in the nation and the first of its kind in the state of Georgia. This center provides a “safe place” where investigators and law enforcement personnel can conduct forensic examinations of a victim’s body and interview victims and their family members. In providing such a safe place, the Family Protection Center seeks to ensure that victims feel comfortable while pursuing healing for themselves and justice against their abusers.

Although The Cottage helps people throughout the four counties in its service area, its relationship with UGA students in Athens-Clarke County has witnessed significant changes in recent years. In the past, around 40% of the victims assisted at The Cottage’s Family Protection Center were UGA students. However, while The Cottage still provides assistance to students who seek help off campus, UGA’s Office of Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (ORSVP) now handles the majority of student-related services. Although this change has broadened the ability of The Cottage to fund services directed at non-students, Sheppard said that future funding issues may require some victims to seek help not at places like the Family Protection Center, but rather at local hospitals like St. Mary’s and Athens Regional. Unfortunately, those hospitals don’t always have personnel who are specifically trained for helping sexual assault and rape victims, with this possibly leading to those victims not receiving the assistance they need.

In sum, the Spencer Frye Fellows learned that The Cottage and the Family Protection Center, in addition to UGA’s ORSVP, perform irreplaceable services for the local community. However, we were troubled to learn about potential funding issues that may compromise the provision of such services in the future. Many of us expressed the hope that, as next year’s General Assembly session draws near, legislators will take action to ensure that adequate funding for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault is in place. By doing so, they will guarantee that The Cottage and the Family Protection Center remain valuable resources for victims in the years to come.