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Spotlight on the Madison Refuge House

Kelly Greene

Greene Publishing, Inc.

Many victims who experience abuse, violence or sexual assault may not know where to turn. Often, due to the traumatic psychological damage that abuse leaves behind, trust can be an issue. For those who have fallen prey to any kind of abuse, it is important to have support, guidance and encouragement. This is why the Refuge House, which serves as the Madison County sexual assault outreach office, is such an great resource for the community.

The first Refuge House shelter was opened in Leon County on February 14 of 1979, and within a year, it united with the Tallahassee Rape Crisis Center. This unification helped to establish Refuge House as a leading force in the effort to help the women and children of the surrounding area. In the years that followed, Refuge House would open shelters in Jefferson County in 1997, Taylor county in 2000, and later, Madison, Wakulla, Franklin, Liberty, and Gadsden counties. Refuge House now serves eight counties in the Big Bend area.

According to Cherie Rowell, the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) Coordinator and Sexual Assault Outreach Counselor for the Madison Refuge House, their mission is to provide direct services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and to their families, as well as, to eliminate such violence through community education and public advocacy.

“I am a survivor of Domestic Violence and Child Sexual Assault myself.” said Rowell. “It took many years for me to heal and the personal barriers encountered along the way have affected my life tremendously. I realized that there had to be something more that could be done for the victims/survivors that were experiencing the same issues and barriers.”

Rowell also encourages anyone that has been affected in any way by sexual violence or domestic violence to please reach out for help. When Rowell was asked what the hardest part of her job was, she responded, “After helping the survivors and their families get the services that are needed and seeing them start to heal, to be only victimized again when the sexual perpetrator gets away with little or no punishment.” She goes on to say that this is mainly due to lack of education provided on sexual violence.

The Refuge House staff consist of full and part-time Outreach Counselors, Case Managers, Sexual and Domestic Violence Counselors and Therapists, Hotline Advocates, Residential and Courthouse Coordinators, a Developmental Director, Regional Directors, Children’s Advocates, a Community Education Coordinator, an Executive Director, Assistant Director and a CFO.

Efforts of the Refuge House's caring and supportive staff members is a key reason why many victims and survivors are coming forward to report their abuse. At their facilities, clients are provided with services that help to educate them on the laws that protect them and their families.

They also provide educational services, such as educational training and presentations for faith-based organizations and for private, community or public agencies.

Rowell would like to send a message, on behalf of herself and the other Refuge House staff: “You are not alone! We are here to help you and your family heal, our services are confidential and free of charge.”

Since the services offered are free, Refuge House depends on financial support from individuals, merchants, civic groups, faith-based organizations and United Way of the Big Bend to continue to serve our community. To donate to Refuge House, visit,, select “Give Help,” then select “Donate Now.”

For more information concerning services provided by Refuge House, contact, Cheryl Perry Rowell at (850) 973-4144 or call the Emergency Shelter and 24-hour crisis hotline for Madison and Taylor counties at (850) 584-8808, (collect calls accepted), and for TTY (800) 584-8808.

If you are a victim or survivor of sexual abuse or domestic violence, please don't suffer alone!

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