Shelter House Offers Protection and Healing


    By Lisa Leath Turpin

    Someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the U.S. One out of every six women, and one out of every 33 men experience an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
    Fact: One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, on average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. In 70 – 80% of intimate partner homicides, no matter which partner was killed, the man physically abused the woman before the murder.

    In 2018 In Okaloosa County, there were 11,907 forcible sex offenses leading to 2,562 major arrests. There were also 2,238 non-forcible sex offense arrests. 60% or more cases are not reported to law enforcement.

    Along with sexual assault and offenses, there is domestic violence which not only affects the victim, but also affects the family members that witness it, particularly the children.
    Fact: Nationwide, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. It is estimated that anywhere between 3.3 million and 10 million children witness domestic violence annually. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. Thirty to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children. Most domestic violence cases go unreported.

    In 2019 in Okaloosa County, there were 1,246 domestic violence offenses and 820 major arrests.

    These statistics are why Shelter House, based in Fort Walton Beach, is so incredibly important. Shelter House, Inc., is the only state-certified domestic and sexual violence center serving victims of Okaloosa and Walton counties and offers a variety of services to families in need. All services are free and confidential.

    In 2013, Shelter House became the only domestic violence shelter in Northwest Florida to allow pets, as they realized that many people stay in abusive situations because there’s no place for them. The shelter is a home-like environment and discretely houses victims and their children in abusive or violent situations, and even abandoned/victimized kids 12 and up. Here they can stay for up to eight weeks living in a safe, protected place to escape any unhealthy situation to gain strength, healing and guidance. They have locations in Fort Walton Beach, Crestview and DeFuniak Springs where survivors can meet with advocates for peer counseling, food pantry, support group and referrals to other community resources. There is even a federally funded apartment program where rent and deposits are initially covered with support reduced over time as the participant becomes more independent. Today, services provided include confidential shelter, court advocacy, peer counseling, support groups, primary prevention, transitional housing, economic empowerment workshops, 24-hour domestic violence hotline, 24-hour sexual assault helpline, child therapy services and supportive services for family members of sexual violence victims. In a single year, right here in our community, Shelter House provides emergency shelter to more than 220 adults and children, houses more than 45 women and children in transitional housing apartments and provides services to nearly 400 adults and children through outreach. “And there are so many more who have not yet reached out to us,” says Rosalyn Wik, Executive Director.

    Shelter House also provides various services to sexual assault survivors, ages 12 and up, whether the abuse happened recently or years ago. In order to comfort, support and protect victims, an advocate on the Rape Response Team (RRT) will accompany victims during forensic examinations and law enforcement interviews and support the victim and plead his or her rights. In certain cases, such as when the perpetrator lives with the victim, sexual assault victims are welcome to stay in the emergency shelter. Advocates can provide legal advocacy to victims and support for friends and family of survivors who need help supporting the victim and dealing with their own feelings.

    Through community fundraisers, the program has grown to what it is today. The emergency shelter has acquired special examination equipment for sexual assault victims which is a great help with the shelter’s costs of helping these beautiful individuals in need.
    Local events held through Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, Little Black Dress Party, White Wilson Medical Centers, and Walk Her Way 5k support Shelter House. Upcoming is Purses with a Purpose in September where Shelter House will be the beneficiary.

    If you’d like to donate, visit for items needed. “Food, cleaning products, personal hygiene items and gift cards are always welcome as well as monetary donations,” says Rosalyn, “and we are always in significant need of toilet paper and paper towels.”

    “We know that sexual assault happens in every community, including ours, but we also know that many victims are too afraid or ashamed to report it to the police or even talk about it with their closest confidant,” says Rosalyn. “We are here for those victims – whether the assault happened today or decades ago – to provide continuous support, services and advocacy. And to our Shelter supporters, as always, thank you for being a friend and advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. We could not fulfill our mission without you!”

    “All Relationships Violence Free”

    16 Ferry Road, SE
    Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548
    Sexual Assault Helpline: 850-226-2027
    Domestic Violence Hot-line: 850-863-4777 or 1-800-44-ABUSE (22873)