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VOL. 127 | NO. 93 | Friday, May 11, 2012

Safe Haven

Family Safety Center combines all services under one Midtown roof

By Aisling Maki

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Victims of domestic violence in need of help will now find navigating the system much easier, thanks to the new Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County.

The Family Safety Center has combined all of its services in 10,000 square feet at 1750 Madison Ave., where it provides a safe environment for families who are victims of domestic violence.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

The 10,000-square-foot center combines civil, criminal, health and social services all under one roof, taking up the entire sixth floor of the Madison Professional Building at 1750 Madison Ave. in the heart of Midtown.

“We needed to come up with a coordinated system for victims because of the number of domestic violence incidences in Memphis and Shelby County,” said Olliette Murry-Drobot, FSC executive director. “In the past, we would lose a number of victims through the cracks. It was frustrating to figure out who was doing what and where to go.”

According to Murry-Drobot, the Memphis Police Department in 2011 received roughly 25,000 calls related to domestic violence.

About 56 percent of violent crime in Memphis is domestic – which doesn’t always indicate the perpetrator is an intimate partner, but can also be a relative, friend or neighbor.

Domestic violence is associated with a significant percentage of homicides. Murry-Drobot said 17 percent of Memphis homicides in 2011 were domestic related.

“If resources and services are more accessible to the victim, hopefully she or he can get out sooner,” she said. “That really leads into the safety planning, something our staff does with clients. If they’re contemplating leaving, it’s critical for them to think about how they’re going to exit that relationship because 75 percent of women who are killed in domestic violence incidents are killed when they’re leaving or have left the relationship.”

Safety comes first at FSC. Everyone entering the facility must cross a security checkpoint.

“We want to make sure this is victim-friendly; that they feel safe when they come here and that their abuser is not going to be able to come into this space,” Murry-Drobot said.

With the help of more than two dozen partner agencies, FSC offers comprehensive, on-site services for victims, covering everything from filing police reports to finding safe housing to beginning divorce and child custody processes.

It also includes a childcare area, where victims’ children can be taken for supervised play.

Although FSC moved into its space in December, its recent grand opening marked the completed move of the partner agencies that will have a permanent presence in the building: The Exchange Club Family Center; Memphis Area Legal Services; Memphis Police Department’s Domestic Violence Investigative Unit; Shelby County Crime Victims Center/Rape Crisis Center; Shelby County District Attorney General’s Domestic Violence Unit; and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Domestic Violence and Sex Crimes Unit.

Other partnering agencies that will work from the center on a part-time basis in a large shared office space include MIFA’s Division of Children and Family Services; Sofia’s House, a shelter of Catholic Charities of West Tennessee; YWCA of Greater Memphis’ Abused Women’s Services; and the Jewish Family Center.

In June, Shelby County Office of Citizens Dispute will move into the center, allowing victims to file for temporary orders of protection.

FSC is part of a network of similar center in cities across the country. About seven years ago, the Memphis-Shelby County Crime Commission, a nonprofit dedicated to improving safety in the area, tapped into the expertise of the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, led by executive director Nancy Williams, whose successful, multi-disciplinary model had brought a host of key agencies together under one roof to fight child sexual abuse and severe physical abuse.

“I have long said that child sexual abuse is not the only issue that would benefit from this high-level collaboration, having all of the players in one place,” said Virginia Stallworth, MCAC associate director. “That’s what’s so exciting about the Family Safety Center; it’s a replication of the Child Advocacy Center model for families dealing with domestic violence.”

Together, they began planning a center, based on that collaborative model, which would offer coordinated services to families caught in the trauma of domestic violence.

The planning process involved focus groups that included survivors of domestic violence who had faced barriers trying to navigate the system.

With the MCAC board of director’s approval, FSC was incubated in the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, 1085 Poplar Ave., “always with the idea, of course, that it would become a free-standing, separate 501(c)3 organization,” Stallworth said.

And like MCAC, FSC not only focuses on helping victims get their lives back; it focuses on prevention through outreach to local schools, churches, employers and other community institutions.

FSC is expanding its efforts to educate the community about the warning signs of domestic violence, something that’s traditionally, and to the detriment of victims, been thought of by many people as a private family matter, and one that only affects women.

“We’re open to all victims,” Murry-Drobot said. “I think sometimes men feel like they’re being left out, but we do also see men. We have same-sex couples, transgendered individuals – we’re open to working with anyone who needs our support.”

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