Advocates sets goal to end domestic and sexual violence | SteamboatToday.com

Advocates sets goal to end domestic and sexual violence

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In 2017, there were 140 reports of domestic violence to law enforcement in Routt County, up from 127 in 2016, and this year, Lisel Petis, executive director of Advocates of Routt County, said the numbers are continuing to rise.

"It's important for our community to be aware domestic violence is real and is going on — even in our beautiful community," said Advocates board member Carla Portigal.

The organization Petis now leads is making some changes moving forward — honoring their long legacy while shaping goals to best meet the needs of today’s community.

More information

• If someone needs help or knows someone that needs help, contact:

• To volunteer email office@advocatesrc.org.

• Advocates is looking for two more board members, especially from Hayden or South Routt. Email lisel@advocatesrc.org for more information.

For starters, the name changed from Advocates Building Peaceful Communities to Advocates of Routt County. They wanted to be specific in whom they serve, Petis said, while keeping at “Advocates” at the center of the name.

Since its founding in 1984, Advocates has provided resources and support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Petis took over the organization's lead role last April from Diane Moore, who for 34 years was described as "a fearless advocate for victims."

Portigal was one of the women who founded the organization with Moore. She had a 45-year career working in mental health and, in recent years, wasn’t involved in Advocates. But after retiring last March, Portigal returned a few months ago as a board member.

Today, Advocates has three full-time employees, two part-time employees and seven board members, three of whom are new.

Portigal describes the work Advocates does as really tough but incredibly rewarding.

“Sometimes you see failures, but you also see see resiliency," Portigal said.

Advocates’ new vision statement is to "end all domestic and sexual violence in Routt County,” and its new mission is to “serve and empower victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence and to disrupt all systems that allow such violence to exist in Routt County.”

Toward that end, the group recently added a social change advocacy component.

The intent, Petis said, is to combat issues that allow domestic violence and sexual assault to exist in the first place. The newly hired social change advocate will head up two groups — the Sexual Assault Response Team and the Domestic Violence Task Force.

Working with law enforcement, the District Attorney's Office, and the Routt County Department of Human Services, the groups will collaborate on identifying, prioritizing and taking action on the underlying issues that can create the environment in which violence exists.

One of the first issues they will tackle is drug-induced sexual assault, most commonly occurring as a result of a “roofied” drink in a bar.

"It's the number one type of sexual assault I've seen," Petis said.

To combat those types of incidents, Advocates is working on training bartenders to be more aware and putting posters in bathrooms.

Advocates will continue offering the essential services they have long provided, including a 24-hour crisis hotline that is fully staffed and running. The line went through a short shutdown over the winter due to a shortage of volunteers. An intensive summer recruitment campaign resulted in six new volunteers, who were recently trained and have allowed the crisis line to return to full operations.

Advocates also operates a 10-bed shelter, which provides a safe space for victims, survivors and their children to escape abusive situations. At several times over the summer, the shelter was full, Petis said.

The organization also continues to provide advocacy services, assisting clients in developing safety plans and coping skills, as well as accompanying them through housing issues and legal and court processes. And there is ongoing outreach to the community.

Petis said a major goal is to reduce victim blaming.

The new social advocacy piece focuses on how to stop abuse, rather than just help the victim after the abuse, Petis said.

"There is no easy answer," Portigal added. "But I'd love to believe we are getting closer.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.

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