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Refuge House Opens New Sexual Assault Support Center

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Kate Payne
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WFSU News

A Tallahassee sexual assault support organization is taking a new approach to crisis response.

For nearly 40 years, the Refuge House has been a safe space for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, offering counseling, advocacy and transitional housing. But in Tallahassee and across the country, there is a gaping divide between instances of sexual violence, and criminal convictions. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, 74% of sexual assaults go unreported.

“Only six out of every one thousand perpetrators ever sees the inside of a prison,” says Georgia Cappelman, an assistant state attorney, and president of the Refuge House board of directors. She hopes the agency’s new SAFE Center, which opened in June, will make it easier for survivors to come forward and get a forensic exam, which is vital for collecting DNA evidence and pursuing criminal investigations. Usually those exams are done in an emergency room, which can be crowded, stressful and discouraging. But Refuge House Director Meg Baldwin says the SAFE center, located next to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, is a comfortable, private alternative.

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Credit Kate Payne / WFSU News
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WFSU News
A room at the Refuge House's SAFE Center, a stand-alone facility that provides forensic exams and counseling for survivors of sexual assault.

“What our new center provides is a free standing facility, outside of the mix of the ER, where rape survivors can receive forensic nursing care, receive initial counseling and information, and meet with law enforcement if they wish, getting the comfort of family and friends in a private, confidential setting that’s solely focused on their needs,” Baldwin said.

The Refuge House hopes the center will be a space for survivors they say are the most difficult to reach, including LGBTQ people, African-American women, and men. All services at the center are free of charge.