FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. – Shelter House is now the certified rape crisis center for Okaloosa and Walton counties. The local agency recently received official notification from the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV).

Shelter House began providing sexual violence services to the community in 2013, with the goal of becoming a certified center this year. Services include a 24/7 hotline, crisis counseling, medical and law enforcement accompaniment, support groups and emergency shelter. The center also offers community education and support for friends and family members of victims. Shelter House, Inc. is the first new rape crisis center to achieve certification since 2005.

“Our staff worked diligently to achieve this certification and ensure that our community did not go without these critical services,” said Shelter House Executive Director Michelle Sperzel. “We took on this challenge knowing that we would not receive FCASV funding until after Shelter House was certified. Doing the right thing was the only option. The community support during the past nine months has been phenomenal. Our community partners, including law enforcement, medical, peer agencies and donors, made this possible.”

Shelter House added a full-time sexual violence program coordinator to its staff and put all of its existing advocates through rigorous training on working with sexual violence victims. Shelter House started receiving rape crisis phone calls shortly after announcing the addition of sexual violence services in June. Since that time, Shelter House has expanded services to include support circles for victims, one-on-one peer counseling sessions and a Rape Response Team that responds to calls from area emergency departments.

The agency has served domestic violence victims in Okaloosa and Walton counties since 1985, and is the area’s only state-certified domestic violence center. All domestic and sexual violence services are confidential and provided at no charge to participants.

The 24/7 hotline number for domestic and sexual violence victims is 850-863-4777. Anyone interested in volunteering should call the administrative office during normal business hours at 850-243-1201. Shelter House has offices in Fort Walton Beach, Crestview and DeFuniak Springs.