A small building at 120 W. First St. in Aberdeen is now home to Beyond Survival, a 25-year-old safehaven for victims of sexual assault. Recently, the center got some much-needed additional room for group sessions and one-on-ones with victims of domestic violence when it was able to raise the funds to acquire the old beauty salon building directly behind it.
“It’s a place to feel comfortable,” said Maddie Graves-Wilson, executive director of Beyond Survival. “You can heal with a friend over a cup of coffee.”
Graves-Wilson’s next goal is to procure funding for transitional housing for victims.
“The next capital campaign will focus on supportive housing,” she said. The need for this type of housing is especially critical in rural areas like those in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties because of the typical household dynamic, she said.
“In most cases the living wage jobs are held by men, while a lot of women are working from home or for minimum wage,” said Graves-Wilson. “If you have the wage-earner doing the abusing, the other parent is going to try to protect the victim but she may be afraid to come forward to report the abuse because she risks losing her child, her home, losing it all.”
Transitional housing would provide a safe place to stay for victims and their families.
“It gives that chance to start over and provides the financial and coping tools to restart their lives,” said Graves-Wilson. “The goal is to eventually become self-sustaining, buy a home. The transitional program will be there to get families back on their feet.”
Residents would be brought in and provided the tools needed to gain education, employment, anything needed to once again reach financial independence. There would be no set time frame, as each family’s situation is different, but Graves-Wilson said each resident would have to follow a program and show progress toward independence to remain in the program.
The center opened in 1993 when it was known as the Grays Harbor Rape Crisis Center, a telephone hotline where sexual assaults could be reported and where operators could assist victims with police reporting and hospital visits, said Graves-Wilson. The center then moved to the basement of the Aberdeen CAPP building, then into its last prior location 313 S. I St. near the corner of State Street, where it remained until last year.
“It wasn’t very inviting,” said Graves-Wilson. “There were a lot of transients and only one door. We had people come in off the streets who were very aggressive, wouldn’t leave.”
In other words, not a very “comfortable” place.
After moving last year and discovering the old beauty salon was for sale, Graves-Wilson started raising funds for its purchase. A local benefactor told her that if she could raise a certain amount for the building, they would match it. Through partners like Timberland Bank, tribes including Squaxin, Nisqually, Chehalis, Quinault and many others, and many other partners, the money was raised, matched and the building purchased.
“We try our best to partner with anyone and everyone,” said Graves-Wilson. “We have a large tribal community here, and one focus of our service is on Native American clients because of the high rate of sexual abuse among them.”
Inside the building is a small kitchen adjacent to a dining area. There sits a custom made table with “Beyond Survival, Working Together to End Sexual Violence” carved on its surface. Next to that is a room lined with chairs and couches which serves as a spot for group sessions. There are also two smaller rooms, one for adult sessions and one for children. Artwork provided by Beyond Survival clients decorates the walls.
Working with children
The kids’ room in the new space is cozy, with assorted toys and comfortable chairs. Children are obviously frightened and confused when they require the services of Beyond Survival, making the need for warm, comfortable surroundings critical.
“Parents can reach out to us for referral to the police or child welfare, and we partner with Connections (formerly the Child Advocacy Center in Montesano), which has forensic interviewers and advocates (for young victims of abuse),” said Graves-Wilson. “Afterward we can work with them and their whole family to make a plan how to put them on track to a new state of normal.”
Beyond Survival is doing a lot of work with younger children in the region, with programs designed specifically for grades kindergarten through three to teach children about what is appropriate touching and what is not, “and teach them what a healthy child-adult relationship is supposed to be like,” said Graves-Wilson.
She said these programs include reading books especially designed for such education, which provide these young children with scenarios they are encouraged to play out in order to learn how to deal with them.
“The schools have been really open to it,” said Graves-Wilson. Beyond Survival has presented at schools in Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Taholah, and soon to McCleary for the first time.
Graves-Wilson said teaching kids about appropriate relationships early on is more important than ever because as a society we are bombarded with sexualized images and stereotypes that can be confusing to a developing child.
“We live in a world where we are inundated with unhealthy sex images,” she said. “If we could stop and look at this society, there’s such sexual aggression and willingness to create so much emotional damage. The dehumanization, the labels, which make people not people; that’s the mentality that creates the attitude of ‘she was asking for it.’”
It takes a village
Graves-Wilson said the key to stopping sexual abuse is an entire community coming together to fight it.
“We need collaborative efforts, schools, private business and as a village raise our kids to stop the cycles of addiction, poverty and abuse,” she said. “We need to have a vision and take steps to realize that vision.”
To that end, Beyond Survival will be reaching further out to more remote rural areas of the region, organizing clubs where community members can come together and discuss the issues of family and sexual abuse in their own back yards.
“There may have been victims out there who have moved past it. How much better than for them to get out in the community and get together and talk about it?” said Graves-Wilson. She envisions groups meeting in community halls and libraries and having healthy, supportive discussions about the issues of incest and sexual abuse so much more prevalent in remote rural areas.
On the list of priorities for the coming year is reaching out to the LGBTQ community in the region, said Graves-Wilson. She said it’s encouraging to see the organization of that community in area schools, in the high schools, Grays Harbor College and elsewhere, and Beyond Survival will be doing outreach work will all of them in the hopes of providing groups specifically for the LGBTQ community.
Often forgotten are the men who are impacted by sexual abuse. In early 2017, Beyond Survival started a men’s support group, a 10-week program where men support other men victimized by sexual assault or abuse.
Prison rape advocacy
“No matter who you are you don’t deserve to have your humanity stripped from you.”
So said Graves-Wilson when she spoke about Beyond Survival’s work with victims of prison rape. With high profile cases in the news recently about abusers like sports physician Larry Nassar, recently incarcerated for sexually assaulting dozens of young Olympic hopefuls, Graves-Wilson said when anyone, even a convicted rapist, calls the center and reports they were themselves assaulted, Beyond Survival takes that call.
“(Sexual assault) takes all your power away from you and you work hard to get all that back,” she said. “That person is still a person.”
Graves-Wilson said Beyond Survival gets “some” state and federal funding but relies heavily on local benefactors to keep their six full-time advocates and two part-time employees on board.
The demand for services is growing steadily. In the 2016 fiscal year they had 112 clients, which grew to 150 the following year. That number is expected to grow to 199 clients this year, requiring almost a thousand hours of advocacy services, compared to less than 600 in 2017.
Graves-Wilson spends a lot of time pursuing local grants, and some grants require some level of matching funds. If the dreams of continued expansion and the addition of transitional housing are to be met, local partners are needed, as are individual contributions.
Donations can be made online using a credit card or PayPal at ghbeyondsurvival.com/donate, and checks can be dropped off at the main office at 120 W. First St. Plans are also underway for their annual auction fundraiser, tentatively a barbecue scheduled April 15 at Events on Emerson in Hoquiam. Tickets are $25 and local businesses can purchase sponsorships at various levels. Live music is planned but a band has not yet been confirmed. Like them on Facebook for updates.