For a year, Amberly’s Place has been receiving an anonymous monthly donation of $20. It might not be much, but it lifts the spirits of the staff and sends a message to victims that people care.
“Every month like clockwork we get this anonymous money order for $20,” Diane Umphress, executive director, said. “This donation means the world to us, as we know it is a sacrifice for whoever is sending it, yet their $20 each month helps with a victim's need for that month.”
She can only speculate as to whether the anonymous donor is someone the family advocacy center has helped and the victim "is saying thank you” or the donor knows someone who was helped and he or she is simply paying it forward.
“It makes a difference and oftentimes people think if they can’t donate hundreds or thousands of dollars, it doesn’t matter. It does, and this donation lifts our spirits as well as helps a victim,” Umphress said.
According to the latest statistics released by the agency, Amberly’s Place assisted 259 victims in Yuma County and part of Imperial County in May.
These abuse cases were reported to a law enforcement agency or directly to Amberly's Place, but Umphress said they realize that not every victim reports abuse.
“In fact, most child molest victims who do report wait until they feel safe to report. This could be days, months or years,” she said.
The May numbers might seem like a lot, “however, it is not the true number in our county,” she added.
Umphress knows one thing for sure: Access to services and knowledge about how to access these services makes the numbers go up.
“When we first opened up our satellite office in San Luis, Arizona, calls for services went up 116%. When we opened up a satellite office in the City of Somerton, once again calls for services increased by 115%. These numbers show us that access to services is paramount to a victim reporting abuse,” she said.
Family advocacy centers, which address all forms of abuse, are the “gold standard” for addressing abuse. “You might ask why is that? Amberly's Place works as a team to address abuse,” Umphress explained.
The multidisciplinary team includes trained detectives with specialized training on investigating abuse and crisis response advocates who not only have degrees in social work but also hundreds of hours of specialized training in crisis intervention.
The team also includes sexual assault nurse examiners with hundreds of hours of additional training on collecting DNA and working with trauma victims, as well as Arizona Department of Child Safety workers, mental health professionals and prosecutors who also have additional training on abuse issues.
“We might not always get the outcomes we hoped for, however, we do know that the team did their best to hold the perpetrator accountable,” Umphress said.
“The rest of the country is looking to Arizona's success” with family advocacy centers as a model for implementation in their communities, she added.
In rural areas like Yuma, the same team responds to child molestation cases and adult sexual assaults. “This means more experience and understanding of sexual assault impacts on victims,” Umphress said, noting that in May Amberly’s Place assisted nine adult victims of sexual assault and more than double the amount of child molestation victims, which numbered 20.
Recently, at the National Children's Alliance Conference, which brings all advocacy centers together, Umphress learned the “sad” statistic that 1 in 3 children will be abused in their lifetime.
“So what can we do to combat this issue? Being willing to acknowledge that there is a problem is the start. Then educating yourself and your family on the signs of abuse and services,” she explained.
In addition, working together as a community provides an environment for victims to feel safe reporting abuse. Recently the directors of many of Arizona's advocacy center, including Umphress, went to Washington, D.C., to meet with senators and congressional members to talk about how they can be part of this team that addresses abuse.
“They were asked to keep federal funding coming into our communities from the Victims of Crime Act Funds as well as the Violence Against Women Act,” Umphress said.
However, she pointed out that donations from the community, big or small, still make a huge difference. “While these (federal) dollars pay for staff and administration needs, your help and support goes directly to the victims' needs,” she said.
Those needs could include paying for groceries, prescription medication, baby formula and other emergency needs.
Umphress issued this invitation to the community: “Please join our team and take an active stand against abuse. You can choose the way that is most comfortable for you. Please choose to do something to help us fight abuse.”
Amberly’s Place can be reached at 928-373-9691. The hotline is 928-373-0849.