San Miguel Resource Center Executive Director Shannon Dean. (Courtesy photo)

In 2020, the San Miguel Resource Center (SMRC) served 184 clients including 143 domestic violence survivors plus eight child witnesses to that violence, 24 sexual assault survivors including adults and children, and 24 survivors of other crimes such as stalking, harassment, and physical assault.

The center provides advocacy, resources, safe housing and counseling to individuals affected by domestic violence and sexual assault in San Miguel County and Montrose County’s West End. In 2020, the center also organized 202 youth-targeted educational events, 40 community presentations, and 54 community outreach events.

“Prevention starts young. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, ages 12 to 34 are the highest-risk age group for sexual assault, so waiting until high school to start talking prevention is, frankly, too late,” said SMRC Executive Director Shannon Dean. “In addition, there is still the idea that girls are the only ones who need education about how to protect themselves from becoming a victim, but we often neglect to teach boys how to not victimize by teaching what consent looks and sounds like or what to do if they feel their boundaries have been crossed.”

Dean, who began working at the center less than two months ago, is a survivor of domestic abuse and intimate partner sexual assault. Her firsthand experience gives her insight that helps her understand clients and a passion for the mission of SMRC, she explained.

Her professional background is 14 years in public school education, including serving on district and state teams that focused on intervention, leadership and positive behaviors, school culture and climate. 

In her new position, she hopes to dispel the misconception that the center only serves women. 

“Domestic and sexual violence, harassment, and stalking affects all people of all genders, ages, races, and cultures and we serve all survivors without discrimination. We have a male advocate and Spanish-speaking advocates on staff to ensure that all survivors in our service area can find support in a way that allows them to be as comfortable as possible, whenever they need it, 24/7/365,” she said.

She also hopes to make the community aware that there is no shame in seeking help. Survivors as well as family members can seek support from the center, no matter how long ago the victimization occurred and whether or not a police report or charges were filed.

In small communities such as those in San Miguel County, where it seems like every local knows every local, victims can be afraid of getting friends or friends of friends in trouble by speaking up about assaults. 

“Whether or not a survivor makes a report is a very personal and complex decision and should never be forced or coerced,” Dean said.

She encourages all survivors to seek support, “even if they feel that making a report is not in their best interests, because the emotional effects of staying silent in the wake of trauma can be devastating,” she said. 

“There are different statutes of limitations for reporting and prosecuting different types of sexual crimes, so though immediate reporting is the best practice to be able to collect evidence and build a viable case, it is not the only option,” she added.

For those who choose to report, the Telluride Medical Center employs two sexual assault nurse examiners. Trained under SMRC’s program, these nurses treat survivors using trauma-informed practices and providing necessary care in a way that feels safe and nurtures the survivor’s wellbeing.

No similar nonprofit victim resource center is located in Ouray County, and due to funding and interagency agreements, center staff can only provide emotional support, information and referrals to Ouray County residents. However, Ouray County residents who are employed in San Miguel County or Montrose’s West End can receive services.

The leadership of SMRC “is discussing the possibility of expanding services to Ouray County as part of a future strategic plan,” she said, explaining that the expanded services would not be available until at least 2023. 

“Ouray County does have two active groups of interested community members, Victims Advocacy Support Alliance (VASA) and Men Ending Rape Culture (MEND), who meet monthly to discuss how to fill the gap in services and what is needed to support survivors,” she added.

VASA and MEND members focus on raising awareness about sexual assault and harassment through outreach activities, as well as researching and supporting victim advocacy needs and opportunities in the county. The two groups commemorated national sexual assault awareness month (SAAM) in April by submitting a guest editorial to the Ouray County Plaindealer newspaper.

SMRC typically participates in SAAM during May as off-season wraps up, so is still solidifying its plans for next month, complicated by the difficulties of navigating COVID-19-related capacity restrictions and other safety measures.

“We are exploring interactive events in outdoor spaces in collaboration with the Telluride Dance Collective, Art-centered events for youth, a robust social media outreach plan (this year’s theme is ‘We can build safe online spaces’) and activities and discussion centered around a film screening or book club,” Dean said.

To get information or assistance for victims or others impacted by sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment, or related crimes, contact the San Miguel Resource Center: 24 Hour Help Line at 1-844-816-3915 and the Telluride Office at 970-728-5842.

Editor’s note: Planet contributor Tanya Ishikawa is a member of VASA.