The numbers of domestic violence victims reaching out to Hilltop Family Resource Center soared by 30 percent, compared with this time last year — but at least the increase means victims are seeking help, Director Jackie Sievers said.

“The calls to our crisis line, the number of people walking in, continues to go up. What we always focus on is people are aware and accessing our services, not that there’s more need, but I suspect we have (need) increasing,” she said.

Sievers and several other staff members, victim advocates and community members came together for “Purple Thursday” at Hilltop’s Latimer House in Montrose to spotlight Domestic Violence Awareness Month and, at the same time, spread the word about services Latimer House-Montrose offers.

Latimer House in Montrose provides resources to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Hilltop operates safe houses; helps with such potentially overwhelming details as court proceedings, replacing documentation lost when fleeing an abusive relationship, and with accessing sustainable housing, as well as counseling, referrals, parenting education, screenings and other services.

The organizations serve both those who come in on their own and those referred by law enforcement, but victims do not have to file a police report in order to access Hilltop/Latimer House.

“We offer community-based services. It’s not like somebody has to have an arrest made. People can walk through our doors and access our services,” Leslie Sparks, manager of domestic violence and sexual assault services, said.

“ … Anything they need, we’re either going to provide it, or we’re going to point them in the direction of somebody who can provide it in order to give them an opportunity to not have to go back to that relationship.”

Victims run the gamut. Some are prepared to get out of their situation, while others are not ready to leave, said Teresha Taylor, who oversees Hilltop volunteers working with domestic violence victims. “It’s a big range of services that we offer,” she said.

Prosecutors do not always see the same victims as Latimer House, but they do see plenty of domestic violence and related crimes, District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller said.

“We’ve seen an overall increase in the number of criminal cases that are being filed, including violent crimes and domestic violence is clearly part of that. Domestic violence remains a significant part of our caseload. Some of our most serious crimes involve domestic violence,” he said.

The DA’s Office serves victims differently than Hilltop/Latimer — but it’s able to do so in part because Hilltop/Latimer is available.

“We’re really trying to look at this from a victim’s perspective, recognizing they face many challenges and constraints, and it isn’t fair for us to be judging their decisions. We have to find our best way to keep our focus on the offender’s conduct,” the DA said.

“We changed how we provide victim services in the DA’s Office. We’ve been able to do that because of the services provided by Hilltop. We have moved to be victim-service providers, not advocates,” Hotsenpiller said.

“But we can only do that because we know right across town, right up the road, are our confidential advocates who can provide the range of services we should not be providing. … We don’t try to do what Hilltop can do. But we need both,” he added.

“They’re complementary,” Sievers said.

Hilltop needs volunteers for its crisis lines, activities and other services. It also needs donations, particularly of gift cards for gas and groceries — often, victims walk into Hilltop with little means of starting anew.

“They’re giving up their home, and their income. The big hurdle seems to be housing and so we’re addressing that with the housing program we have received grant moneys to help people get into sustainable housing,” said Sparks.

“People have complex needs when they’re facing domestic violence. We have a whole host of resources right here in this building,” Sievers said.

Most people haven’t had the exposure to the complexities of domestic abuse, and that can be a barrier to understanding victims.

“So often, somebody leaving a domestic violence relationship is walking away from their entire life — their source of income, their friends, sometimes their family, their belongings,” Sievers said.

“First of all, that takes tremendous courage and it means that often, people are just starting over. They’re also having to think about safety, the legal system and healing.”

Latimer House in Montrose is located at 540 S. First St. and is open regular business hours. To donate or volunteer, call 970-252-7445.

Those who need help can contact the 24-hour crisis line for Montrose, Ouray and Delta counties at 1-844-990-5500.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

Montrose Daily Press | October 26, 2018
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