Recently we spoke with Amy Merkle, Sexual Assault Services Coordinator at SafeHouse Center. SafeHouse works to provide safety, support, advocacy and resources for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and their children, while also working relentlessly to change the systems and attitudes that allow this abuse to continue. In this interview, Amy discusses how to get connected with SafeHouse, signs to look out for in your loved ones that might signal abuse, and the prevalence of abuse within the older adult population.
[This interview was prior to Covid 19 and SafeHouse Center’s hours may have changed. Call ahead.]
Ahead of the Curve: If you had to give an “elevator speech” about what your organization does, how would you describe it?
Amy Merkle: SafeHouse Center is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide safety, support, advocacy and resources for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and their children, and to work relentlessly to change the systems and attitudes that allow this abuse to continue.
AOTC: Walk me through the step-by-step process. What happens when you get a phone call/referral?
AM: Survivors can access our services by calling our 24 hour HelpLine, walking into our lobby during business hours (M-F 9am-5pm), or attending a drop-in group. There’s always someone to talk to on the Helpline and someone on call to meet with walk-ins. If someone is looking for counseling, they’ll be asked some demographic information in addition to what kind of support they are looking for. Their intake will then be assigned to an advocate who will follow up with them.
AOTC: What organizations do you work closely with?
AM: We work with all Law Enforcement agencies in Washtenaw County. We also work closely with HAWC [Housing Access of Washtenaw County], Ann Arbor Thrift, The Women’s Center of SE Michigan, Jewish Family Services, Center for Independent Living, Ozone House, Child Care Network, EMU, UofM, Packard Health, and Dawn Farms.
AOTC: What are some things you wish the public knew about your role?
AM: That we provide services to any survivor of Washtenaw County regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.
AOTC: What can you tell us about sexual assault/domestic violence and older adults?
AM: It’s more common than you might think. 83.3% of elder sexual abuse victims live in some form of institutional care facility; 26.8% of those victims experienced the actual sexual abuse within a family home or the home of their perpetrator. Older adults may not talk about their abuse for a variety of reasons, including fear of more abuse, shame, family loyalty, fear of being moved out of the home, being home-bound, loss of their social network, or threats from their perpetrator. They also may not know that what they’re experiencing is abuse and that there are resources in their community that can support them.
Signs to look out for include bruises/pressure marks/broken bones, a sudden change in alertness, sudden changes in the person’s financial situation, extreme agitation, bruises around the genital area, panic attacks, or unexplained withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy. It’s important to remember that showing one of the signs doesn’t necessarily indicate abuse but demonstrate that there might be some sort of issue.
AOTC: What tips do you have for someone with a loved one that’s going through this issue/needs assistance?
AM: Let them know that you believe them and are there for them. Don’t judge what they did and/or are doing to keep safe, they know their situation best. Healing takes time and is a process. Get support for yourself.
AOTC: Is there anything you would like to add?
AM: Our Helpline is staffed 24/7 for questions and support. You can reach the Helpline at (734) 995-5444.
Thank you to Amy Merkle for giving us a look into this vital service.