Hays-based Options Domestic and Sexual Violence Services Inc. has announced plans to offer permanent services in Colby, citing a need to better serve survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the far northwest region of the state amid a significant spike in service demand.
In just the last two years, the amount of services provided annually by the agency has increased a staggering 295 percent, nearly tripling. While several factors likely contribute to the growing demand for survivor assistance, staff has recognized a need to make accessing services easier for far northwest Kansas, said Jennifer Hecker, executive director of Options.
A Colby satellite office is expected to open in February, and plans also are in the works to open a shelter for violence survivors in that area later this year. Options currently has only an Ellis County crisis shelter, which has been operating at maximum capacity for the last two years, she said.
“The reality is, in order to come into our shelter if you live in Goodland or Colby, you’re going to have to quit your job. So now you don’t have an income,” Hecker said. “You’re going to have to pull your kids out of school, then you’re going to have to move to an entirely new community where you have no contacts, where the cost of living may be more. Housing is limited and challenging, and so how can I recover and get back on my feet financially and do all those things? That seems an impossible choice.
“So sometimes the most safe choice for people that are in an abusive situation is to stay where they are. It is sad,” she added. “And no one should ever have to make that choice.”
Final details for the Colby office — such as a special-use permit hearing to open the office in a residential neighborhood — are ongoing. But the office will be staffed by two full-time employees and hopefully will open in the next few weeks, Hecker said.
Plans for the shelter house are preliminary, and Options is working to secure additional funding for the project. The goal would be to start with a six-bed facility, though Hecker said the demand soon might outgrow that amount of space.
Options previously had a satellite office in Colby for a number of years, but was forced to close it a year and a half ago due to financial challenges, she said.
Despite that, staff continued working to strengthen the agency and made frequent travels throughout the agency’s 18-county service area. Since the time the Colby office closed, Options has seen a 59-percent increase in the amount of services provided to residents in the Colby area, Hecker said. The agency also has a campus advocate who regularly visits Colby Community College to assist survivors and raise awareness.
The office will offer walk-in services between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., similar to the location in Hays. Options also offers a 24-hour crisis hotline at (800) 794-4624.
The agency in 2015 provided a total of 1,100 services. The number of annual services spiked to more than 7,000 last year.
Despite the increased demand for services, official reports from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation do not show an increase in the number of reported domestic or sexual abuse cases in the area, Hecker said.
Options has been working for the past few years to highlight the entire scope of its services, which also include support for male and LGBTQ survivors, she said. That could contribute in part to the increased service requests, but another factor likely is trending social media campaigns as issues of sexual harassment and abuse have entered the national spotlight.
“We saw the biggest spikes in the last few months when the #metoo movement started and went viral,” Hecker said, referring to a campaign on Twitter and Facebook last fall. “We saw I think it was a 44-percent increase in the number of hotline calls. … I think we are seeing a shift in our culture and how our culture holds perpetrators responsible, and we are seeing a shift of victims who are saying, ‘You cannot silence me anymore.’ ”
To make a financial donation or for more information about Options, visit help4abuse.org.