Safe Horizon's Blog
1/10/12: New Year, New Resolutions
2012 is here! The new year brings on new resolutions, many (we hope) to be kept. If you haven't yet made resolutions but want to help make a difference for children, adults, and families affected by violence and abuse, Safe Horizon offers five ways you can join us, from volunteering to hosting a special event to raise awareness.
Visit our New Year's Resolutions page to learn more.
3/8/11: Helping parents deal with child abuse - by Tiana Stowers-Pearson
Tiana Stowers-Pearson is Senior Director of Safe Horizon's Child Advocacy Center in Manhattan, one of our four centers that provide healing and justice for thousands of abused children each year in New York City.
I love working at the Child Advocacy Center, even though we’re dealing with really terrible cases of child sexual and physical abuse. It’s because I know when children come to us, we’re here and ready to support them and help during a time of crisis.
Sometimes, it’s not just helping the child that’s important. Imagine being a parent who finds out your child has been hurt. Imagine not knowing what to do. Imagine how upset and confused you’d be. You need to help your child, but you need help to deal with the abuse, too.
One of my team members Kenny recently had to help a parent going through this. The parent’s son had been sexually abused by a classmate and told his dad, who immediately called the cops. The cops referred Vincent* and his son to us for help.
Things seemed to be going well until our partners began working with Vincent’s son. Vincent , a concerned dad became agitated – and then flipped out. Kenny, who’d been working with Vincent, could not get Vincent to calm down. So we had to end our interview with his son and let the family go home.
Through it all, Kenny stayed calm and respected Vincent’s decision to leave. But a few days later, Kenny got a call from Vincent. Vincent had seen for himself what the abuse was doing to his son. His son refused to eat, he said, and when he tried to take him to school, his son refused to go. When they got there and his son saw the parent of the child who attacked him, he started to shake and cry. Vincent said he realized then just how much the abuse was hurting his son, and he wanted to come back to our center to get his son help.
Kenny quickly brought Vincent back in and worked with him to get his son transferred to a new school. Then, he helped Vincent and his son get linked to some on-going counseling . Vincent was so grateful that he thanked Kenny over and over, and went around to every member of our team to apologize and to thank them and to praise Kenny for all their help.
I’m proud of Kenny, and thankful as well for everyone I work with who can be there for both a child and a parent when they most need us. Thank you, team!
*Client names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy. Images used are representations of Safe Horizon's clients.
1/11/11: Commemorating National Human Trafficking Awareness Month
January is National Human Trafficking and Slavery Awareness Month in the United States. Did you know that trafficking is the 2nd largest criminal enterprise in the world - and growing? With hundreds of thousands of children, women, and men becoming victims of modern-day slavery every year, programs like our Anti-Trafficking Program play a critical role in helping victims find both freedom and justice.
Jennifer Dreher, Anti-Trafficking Program's Senior Director, commemorates both the month and National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in this article. Read an excerpt below.
President Barack Obama proclaimed January 2011 as the second annual Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In doing so, President Obama reminds us that modern-day slavery continues to plague our country and our communities.
An estimated 27 million human trafficking victims exist around the globe. Though many of us believe slavery in the United States ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, sadly, thousands of victims trapped as modern-day slaves live in our country today as well....
12/20/10: Mary Kay Celebrates the Beauty of Surviving Domestic Violence
On December 9, beauty product giant Mary Kay Cosmetics gave 30 women an unforgettable day - and way - to celebrate surviving domestic violence. At the "You Are Beautiful" event, the women received pampering through makeovers, gifts, live music, lunch, and other surprises.
One of the women got the chance to speak about both her experiences and about the event when CNN en Espanol interviewed about the event. Most important, however, was the chance the women got to enjoy being with others who have lived through domestic violence, and to celebrate their freedom and recovery.
11/19/10: Halloween Party at the Manhattan Child Advocacy Center - by Tiana Stowers-Pearson
Tiana Stowers-Pearson is Senior Director of Safe Horizon's Child Advocacy Center in Manhattan, one of our four centers that provide healing and justice for thousands of abused children each year in New York City.
Safe Horizon’s Child Advocacy Centers are where physically and sexually abused children can find healing and justice. Our Centers, located in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Manhattan, are child friendly, safe places that provide comprehensive and coordinated investigation and treatment services for child victims and their families.
During October, our Manhattan Child Advocacy Center (MCAC) hosted its first Halloween party – “Fright Night at the MCAC” -- with great success. A total of 17 families with 25 children joined us for a night jam packed with tricks and treats for all ages, including a puppet show performed by the Galli Children’s Theater, face painting, dancing, games, and arts and crafts.
Our program assistant, Anika Nitia, planned this “spook-tacular” event. Let me tell you, this project was a labor of love for someone who truly enjoys working to help children in need. Anika approached me about planning a Halloween party for our clients and their families way back in the summer, and she spent the last three months soliciting the funds, material donations, and labor she needed to bring this event to life. She went as far as recruiting members of her own family to make treats and paint faces.
When I asked about the source of her drive to coordinate, plan and organize this event, Anika simply stated that she felt it important for us to provide our families with a “fun and safe environment to observe Halloween.”
It took two days for Anika, Senior Case Manager Kenneth Orilus, and our volunteer Erika Calamanan to decorate the center’s conference room, which they completely transformed into the perfect venue for the evening’s festivities - a haunted stone castle. Our staff and guests were surprised by the decorations – and they loved them, too! They were impressed by the castle’s eerie pumpkin patch, and the giant spider that hung from the 20-foot spider web that was sprawled along the room’s ceiling and walls. Parents even designated the pumpkin patch as a backdrop for their own photo ops.
Would Anika do it again? Of course she would. The result was amazing! “The fact that the children had such a great time made it all worth it,” Anika said.
I am extremely proud of Anika and the rest of my staff, interns, and volunteers for the work and effort that they put into this event. They worked together to create a fun environment and even added to the night’s festivities by dressing up themselves. Thanks, guys. The party was a blast!
Special thanks … to the following companies and individuals for their or your generous donations. You made it possible for us to treat our families to a wonderfully magical night!
- The Galli Theater which set the stage for this entertaining evening, by kicking off the party with a mesmerizing and humorous performance of “The Frog Prince”
- The Gourmet Deli and La Famiglia Pizza, who donated pizza and other food items
- Detective Shirley Figueroa, who provided candy and refreshments on behalf of the New York Police Department's Manhattan Child Abuse Squad
- All the MCAC interagency staff from Safe Horizon, Administration for Children’s Services, The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Columbia University who donated funds
- Anika’s sister Trisia Salim, a young aspiring artist who not only painted the faces of our many guests, but also baked all of the cupcakes and special treats for the families
About the Manhattan Child Advocacy Center:
The Manhattan Child Advocacy Center is a unique collaboration of expert professionals all working together under one roof in Harlem. The multidisciplinary team includes staff and representatives from:
- Safe Horizon
- The Administration for Children’s Services
- The New York City Police Department
- The New York County District Attorney’s Office
- Corporation Counsel
- Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
Emily Bremer is a Quality Assurance Specialist with Safe Horizon's Research and Evaluation Department. As part of her assignments, she visits Safe Horizon's program sites in each of New York City's boroughs.
11/2/10: Halloween at Safe Horizon - by Emily Bremer
It was fun the past few weeks to see all the Halloween decorations up around many of the programs—cobwebs, zombies, witches, and jack-o-lanterns. A number of our shelters host holiday parties for the residents every year and do craft projects with the kids. I also spoke to a case manager who was taking the time to plan an upcoming holiday party for the clients in her program. With the aid of other case managers, she was meticulously cataloging all the children who had come in with their mothers and fathers seeking services in the past year. She was then researching what kinds of toys these kids of the various ages and genders might like to play with, information which would be sent to one of the nearby churches who was sponsoring a Secret Santa program.
Hearing about all the work that so many Safe Horizon staff put into making sure our clients have a holiday, whether it be Thanksgiving or Halloween or Christmas, made me feel joy. It isn’t something that is required of our staff. A holiday party won’t make abuse go away. It won’t ease pain, or cease violence. It won’t stop harsh words or cruel deeds. It certainly won’t make housing subsidies or shelter space magically appear. But it can make a survivor and her children feel a little more support during a time where she may not have anybody. Holidays are a time where many families come together. But she or he may not have a family or a community that offer safety, laughter, or love.
That little bit of comfort that a holiday party or a kind gesture during one of the hardest times of the year might provide serve as a reminder that Safe Horizon is not just here to provide services for victims of crime. Assisting someone who is coping with one or a number of victimizations goes well beyond just seeing a client, linking them to services and sending them on their way. Finding help, healing, becoming safe and healthy require a much greater depth of support. And we as an organization exist for much broader and more intangible reasons: to comfort, to encourage, to listen, to do little day to day things that may seem insignificant to most people but that mean a lot to those who may be feeling despair.
10/13/10: Helping Victims Through Court Programs - by Emily Bremer
I’ve been traveling to a lot of Safe Horizon’s court programs lately throughout the five boroughs. One of the first things I have been working on doing is to disentangle the differences between the Family Court programs and the Criminal Court programs. The experiences for the victims going through the court process in each of these different courts can be very different and it can affect how they perceive the criminal justice system. Of course there are many factors that can affect the experiences of victims as they navigate the legal system—their experience with the police at the time of an incident, the county the court is in, the judge, and the type of crime are all examples of how a victim’s experience can drastically change from victim to victim. Within Family Court and Criminal Court there are also a number of differences that affect how the victim proceeds with a case. I’d like to highlight one of the major differences between Criminal Court and Family Court—the role of the District Attorney’s office.
The District Attorney is a publicly-elected position and represents the government in prosecuting criminal offenses. What this can often mean for a victim of crime is that the DA's office will prosecute a case and a defendant, even when the victim is reluctant to press charges. The District Attorney's office has to make a decision to prosecute based on how egregious the crime is and what kind of evidence the office has collected in the case.
It is because of this that Safe Horizon's support becomes crucial for survivors of domestic violence who are dealing with Criminal Court. Safe Horizon's expert staff can help explain to clients what happens in court and help them understand what the District Attorney's office does and why a case may or may not be prosecuted.
Although the DA's office makes the ultimate decision to prosecute a case, the perpetrator may not understand this and may blame the victim. When offenders are released from jail, they may then seek retribution. Should this happen, in addition to providing information, Safe Horizon can also help clients prepare for repercussions that may occur from prosecution of perpetrators, such as managing their risks and developing a safety plan.
In cases in which the DA's office seeks additional information from a crime victim to help support the evidence collected, Safe Horizon can help further. Our staff can explain the evidence process to clients, and also help them understand the types of questions the DA's office may ask.
Finally, our Criminal Court program clients are often in crisis because a severe incident precipitated the initiation of a criminal case. This is where Safe Horizon may play its most important role - by providing help so victims can deal with the trauma of victimization, through counseling and other critically-needed services.
9/20/10: The myth of the battered woman - by Emily Bremer
I was reminded again this past weekend of one of the major myths that continues to permeate about women who experience intimate partner violence. A close friend of mine, in describing how her brother was continually involved in an intimate relationship gone sour, said he was “acting like a battered woman.” Perhaps a year or two ago, I myself wouldn’t have thought much about it. In fact, the metaphor would have only helped me understand what my friend was explaining, that her brother was a helpless victim who was dependent on his partner. And because of this dependency, he could not find the strength to leave the relationship, therefore inviting himself to further abuse.
I know my friend did not mean harm by this comment. I know she was trying to describe a situation of one individual who was not leaving a situation that from the outside seemed to have no worth and no rational reason for its continuance. This concept of the victim of intimate partner violence has historically been used as a tool to gain empathy and support for the victims. But it has also succeeded in making people see survivors of domestic violence solely as victims who take on the typical characteristics that we have come to associate with victims: weakness, dependency, helplessness, even innocence.
In contrast, many domestic violence survivors are very strong. They have endured countless acts of violence and the physical, emotional, and psychological effects that this violence brings them on a daily basis. They may in fact choose to stay in a relationship of their own volition because as experts in their own lives, staying with the abuser is the best option in their lives at the moment. While abuse is abhorrent, leaving the abuser may bring on a host of consequences that are even worse—threat of increased risk of violence or even death, homelessness, endangerment to children and even losing someone you love and have built a life with.
In the end, we also have to remember that the decision to stay for women in domestic violence relationships is not only a calculated strategy, but it is their choice. While we may be experts in domestic violence, we are not experts in people’s own lives. Just as we demand that others respect our choices over how we decide to lead our lives, so too do women (and men!) who experience intimate partner violence expect us, as outsiders, not to judge why they may decide to stay in a relationship that is abusive.
9/3/10: My First Shelter Experiences - by Emily Bremer
I’ve been traveling to Safe Horizon’s domestic violence shelters lately, which has been a very interesting, very vivid experience for me. It’s not hard to understand the concept of providing a space for women, children, and men who need a safe place to stay, a place where they can escape the often horrendous physical, emotional and psychological abuse they endure. But what goes on once they get to the shelter? How do the shelters work? For some reason, understanding the DV shelters has always been a bit elusive for me. When I was younger, I volunteered at a shelter playing with some of the kids who came in with their mothers. I don’t think I ever quite grasped the challenges, the pain, the fear, the uncertainty that many of the mothers may have felt. More recently as a volunteer advocate, I’ve personally tried to get patients into shelter from the hospital, helping them call to request space and guiding them through what best I knew about the process. But again, the mystery has always been there.
After making visits to three of Safe Horizon’s emergency shelters in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, the shelter experience has become much clearer, much more tangible to me. Families of all sizes come to seek a recess from violence and abuse. But the experience is so much more valuable. Emergency shelters do not just provide that safe place; they allow people to start rebuilding themselves and their families. Shelters give survivors of violence the chance to start collecting their thoughts and to escape the isolation, the self-doubt, the constant fear, that can often make it difficult to think clearly about their lives. They can meet with experienced staff regularly to get help with whatever their priorities may be from just getting enough food to finding a job to individual counseling. They can also interact with other survivors who may have similar experiences in support groups, shelter activities, and through the shared experience of the shelter. The shelter experience can be hard too. Survivors are uprooted from their lives because they have to live in a different borough where they don’t have any connections. It can be more difficult to get to work. Children may have to change schools. Survivors may feel more cut off from support systems such as friends, family, and neighbors. They may have conflicts with other residents. And always, there’s the inevitable—that they can’t stay there forever.
Given these challenges, I was still struck by the resilience of many of the women, men, and children who made it to our shelters. Even though they have faced often constant, often harrowing abuse, they have endured. Even though they may not be free from violence after they leave the shelter, they will endure.
8/20/10: Bronx Bustle - by Emily Bremer
As I walked into the Bronx Criminal Court this past week, the day was just beginning. The line through the metal detector was short, but once I got inside, people were already collecting throughout the waiting areas. Even though it was still early, the flurry of the court’s daily activities created a din of voices, interspersed by cell phone rings and the metal detector, echoing throughout the marbled walls of the court. I was struck by all people everywhere--attorneys, judges, court officers, plaintiffs, defendants, court staff, and staff of various non-profit programs involved in the criminal justice system--most of who were already in the full swing of their busy day.
When I arrived at the reception room on the third floor, I was greeted warmly (with cookies!) by Maureen Curtis, the Assistant Vice President of all Bronx programs, who was soon joined by Vilma Torres, Director of the Bronx Criminal Court. They proceeded to tell me about all the services the program juggles day in, day out. Most clients come in because of a recent arrest made; on top of those cases, there are a handful of walk-ins. Clients generally receive assistance navigating the court process, including court advocacy and accompaniment. Case managers also engage in crisis intervention, provide appropriate information and referrals, and help clients who need practical assistance including housing transfers.
Talking to both Maureen and Vilma, I was blown away by just how busy the Bronx Criminal Court program is. Assisting over 8,000 people every year, the Bronx Criminal Court program is easily the largest (in terms of volume) of all of the court programs at Safe Horizon. Over 300 new cases a month in the summertime are split between four full time case managers and case manger who divides her time between the Criminal Court program and the Family Justice Center. The math works out to 80 or so cases a month per case manager. And that’s only new clients! In addition, because Safe Horizon has built such a good reputation with the staff at the court, it has become the go-to place to send any persons seeking information throughout the court. The court officers are in the habit of automatically sending people to us if they have questions.
By the time I was on my way out, the line had already grown long and the halls were packed with people waiting for the elevator or huddled in the corner with their attorneys. The earlier din of voices had morphed into a cacophony of noises. As I passed the security point on the main floor, I overheard one of the security officers say to a lost-looking woman, “Safe Horizon, third floor!”