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Response launches support group for domestic violence and sexual assault victims

A recent photo of Shannon Birzon, who will lead Response's first peer support group for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Shannon Birzon/courtesy photo

RESPONSE PEER SUPPORT GROUP

Response will begin hosting a bimonthly support group for victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse this week. The first meeting will be held online Wednesday at 6:30 pm and will continue every other Wednesday thereafter. If you are intersted in learning more about the group and/or signing up to call into the first meeting, email admin@responsehelps.org or call 970–920-5357.

If you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault and need additional help from Response, visit responsehelps.org or call the 24-hour crisis line at 970-925-7233.

Starting Wednesday, the local nonprofit Response will begin hosting a bi-monthly online support group for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

It’s the first time the Aspen-area group has run a peer support group in more than two years and is coming to fruition as Response experiences an uptick in client contacts and crisis calls compared with last year.

“Our new client numbers are going up but right now we’re really seeing a lot of crisis calls from people who are under a lot of stress,” Meyer said. “We’re hearing that this stress is being exacerbated by the (COVID-19) crisis which is making relationships more volatile.”

In mid-April, Meyer said Response — which aims to educate people on domestic violence and sexual abuse and to support survivors from Aspen to El Jebel — had started to see an increase in crisis calls and need for free emergency shelter amid the county’s stay-at-home COVID-19 response phase, as home is not always a safe space for some people.

As of Monday, that increase has held true over the past two months, with 118 crisis calls received since the start of 2020, slightly up from 112 calls over the same period last year; and 615 contacts or interactions with clients so far in 2020, up from 385 last year. Response currently has 65 clients, the same number of clients it had last year at this time, Meyer said.

Because of these upticks in crisis calls and client interactions, Meyer said Response’s housing program manager has taken on a part-time advocacy role as well to help support clients and victims in need.

The nonprofit also has eight new crisis line volunteers trained and ready to help relieve some pressure, Meyer said, and has seen some success with its new text or chat option available through its website, which launched as a more covert way to seek help during the county’s stay-at-home public health order.

“We’ve had two people use our text crisis line which is really exciting, and one of the two people used it a lot because that was the only way they were able to communicate, so it felt really good to have that option for them,” Meyer said.

The start up of an online peer support group is another new resource for domestic violence and sexual assault victims — currently experiencing abuse or who have experienced abuse previously — and will be open to anyone regardless if they are a Response client.

“We’ve always thought this would be a great thing to get going,” Meyer said of the peer support group. “Now we have a person who fits the bill and wants to lead it for us, and we’ve also had a lot of requests from clients and people calling and just asking if we have one.”

The person set to lead the support group is Shannon Birzon, who has helped support Response crisis line callers for the past two years.

Birzon said she has experienced domestic violence and sexual assault, leading her to want to be in service to others who have gone through similar experiences.

“I always knew I wanted to be involved in this realm,” Birzon said. “I find a lot of value in working with people who are experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault, it’s a way of giving back.”

Through the peer support group, which will start Wednesday evening via Zoom, Birzon said she aims to create a safe space where people can come share their story, receive support, and realize they are not alone in what they are going through.

“There’s a great power in being in a group, forming a community and creating a sense of safety that helps give people the courage and strength to step into something new,” Birzon said.

She went on to say that by making the support group available to all domestic violence and sexual assault victims in an easily accessible way through their phones, she hopes to reach more people and that the support group can become a piece of their safety nets.

“I hope through this group of people can really experience being seen and heard by people who genuinely care and want to support, I hope to create what might be new ways of communicating with each other and speaking out,” Birzon said.

“I really want to help people tap into being their own personal advocate and learn how to speak up for themselves and see themselves as beings that are worthy of protection, choice and freedom.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com


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