For many years, Safe Horizon has helped lead a coalition of survivors, advocates, organizations, law enforcement, and legislators from around the state to better align our laws with the experiences of childhood sexual abuse survivors. Known as the Child Victims Act, this legislation was created to enact meaningful and long-overdue statute of limitation reform, expanding the ability for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to finally have their day in court. We are ecstatic to announce that these survivors can now seek the justice they deserve. After 10 years, the Child Victims Act passed overwhelmingly in New York State! To learn more about what this means for adult survivors of child sex abuse in New York State, read our blog post by VP of Government Affairs, Michael Polenberg.
Safe Horizon’s network of eight domestic violence shelters are critical pieces of NYC’s safety net for survivors. They offer a range of concrete services, like housing and job readiness, as well as trauma therapy and other healing supports. This year, we’ve made incredible enhancements to shelters – starting up licensed mental health clinic satellites, integrating principles of trauma-informed care and mental health response, reviewing our rules and policies from a client-centered, anti-racist lens, and more.
But increasingly, we are hearing from clients that the traditional model of shelter, focusing on complete invisibility and often a ‘break’ with previous life, is isolating, and doesn’t support long term safety. Over and over again, survivors coming through our doors are asking for another approach, one that focuses on long-term community connectedness as a critical safety tool.
There are so many examples of this need – imagine a mother forced by an outmoded approach to choose between having a safe place where she won’t be hurt by a partner, or maintaining an arrangement with grandparents to tuck her child in every night while she goes to work. The shelter system as it exists today – due to combinations of regulatory, financial, physical, and historical factors – imposes tradeoffs for everyone who comes through the doors.
Grounded in our values around equity and survivor leadership, we are committed to building out a second choice for survivors of violence. Beginning now, Safe Horizon is launching a planning process to lay out action steps necessary to launch New York’s first open shelter. Open shelters, a space where trusted friends and family can be in community with survivors, would never replace confidential shelters, but they may offer a new option for families who choose it. Led in close collaboration with staff leaders, survivors, advocates, and public stakeholders, the proposed process will produce action-oriented plans covering regulatory change, program design, field research, risk management, fiscal analysis, and operating costs, evaluation design, facility-based and IT needs, and more. It’s a big project based on years of research, listening, and learning, and it’s driving us to create new pathways to safety and connection for survivors.
For all the incredible creativity, resilience, and drive they bring to their lives and goals each day, homeless and street-involved young people can be highly vulnerable to trauma, sexual exploitation, negative health outcomes, and violence. On top of these experiences, many young people are re-traumatized by systems of policing, foster care, immigration, healthcare, and even education, when such public systems don’t center survivors or understand trauma.
The result of this is a systems gap in which young people cannot access the supports they need within programs designed for and by themselves. Over the last several years, Streetwork – Safe Horizon’s continuum of youth services – has made a strategic long term commitment to change this. We have taken on this challenge by focusing on mental health as the key to youth outcomes.
The Streetwork model has exciting promise for young people in New York City and beyond. Moving forward, we’re going to do even more of this work, learning from youth and shifting systems towards their needs and experience.
Last year, Safe Horizon was one of only 10 organizations nationally to be selected by the federal Office for Victims of Crime to pilot technological innovations which better engage survivors of crime. Now, Safe Horizon is in the process of rolling out SafeChat, a new online chat-based crisis and support service, focused especially on meeting the needs of young men of color who are highly vulnerable to experiencing violence, but underrepresented in traditional victim services. We are partnering with the Brooklyn-based Make It Happen, a project of the Center for Court Innovation and a leader in this work.
As people move increasingly towards seeking support and resources online rather than by phone, Safe Horizon is moving fast to enhance our digital services capacity. Developing a technology-driven platform to engage and support people who are hesitant to call a hotline or visit a community office will be critical to responding to the safety, healing, and justice needs of New Yorkers over the next several years.
We are fully launching SafeChat later this year. In this initial startup phase, we have already conducted a few soft launch trials, and are tweaking our platform and approach in response. Each day, our advocates are honing new skills, making connections, and building a network of support materials and resources across NYC. We look forward to sharing learnings from this digital shift with the wider field.
Finally, nothing shows the power of advocacy, safety, and justice more than the lived experience of survivors every day. Even in times of criminalization and uncertainty for immigrant survivors, there is hope and power in this work for so many. Take Barsha’s story:
Barsha* first came to Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project (ILP) in July 2014. She was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband in Bangladesh. Barsha’s marriage was arranged and involved a dowry, which her family was unable to pay in full. Because of that, her husband subjected her to years of violence and abuse, including withholding money to pay for medical treatment once she learned she was diabetic. Because of her inability to get adequate treatment, she had to be hospitalized several times, and today she has serious issues with her kidneys that require dialysis, and she needs a walker to walk because of the pain.
With extensive support from ILP attorneys and staff, Barsha gathered documents needed to present a compelling petition for asylum. One of our attorneys, Marisol, prepped the case and handled the hearing, which was finally heard on March 14, 2019. After much waiting, we were so delighted to learn that the government did not oppose the grant of asylum, and now Barsha can remain in New York City.
Director of the Immigration Law Project Evangeline Chan writes, “This is such a significant win, especially in this climate with the government’s attempts to make it even more difficult for asylum seekers, especially survivors of domestic violence.”
Now, Barsha will be able to fully focus on her health and recovery. For years, her concerns for her safety from her husband have not permitted her to do so, and the stress only exacerbated her condition. Moving forward, she does not have to worry about being deported back to a country where her life was threatened by her husband. She is also deeply religious and has had a long-held dream of being able to make the Hajj pilgrimage. In order to make the Hajj pilgrimage, she needed to be able to travel outside the country. Now as an asylee, she is looking forward to hopefully fulfilling this life-long dream.
*Name changed to protect client’s confidentiality and privacy.