Meet Ravi, a volunteer with a message for men

Meet Ravi, a volunteer with a message for men

As part of our series of vlogs about male volunteers, Ravi tells us why it’s important to see domestic violence as more than just a women’s issue.

Male volunteers serve a critical role at SafePlace, and in our community. They lead by the example they set for others. Keep checking back as we post more videos of our male volunteers telling you why they volunteer with SafePlace.

Meet James. He’s a SafePlace Volunteer.

Meet James. He’s a SafePlace Volunteer.

Male volunteers serve a critical role at SafePlace, and in our community. They lead by the example they set for others. But why take our word for it? Our male volunteers decided to tell you themselves, in a series of “vlogs” that we’ll be sharing with you in the coming weeks.

Here’s our first vlog, by James, a volunteer in our Children’s Programs.

The Resilience of Survivors

The Resilience of Survivors

Everyone knows that housing in Austin is getting more expensive all the time. And for single moms with kids trying to build independent lives, stable housing can seem like a faraway dream.

But earlier this year, two moms who met in the SafePlace shelter decided to pool their resources and get a place, with their kids, together.

“It was a practical decision that also served their emotional needs,” explains Residential Services Director Melinda Cantu. “They’re not just saving money; they’re also making sure that they’ve got the support they’re going to need as they each look for employment, care for their children, and continue to recover from years of abuse and violence.”

Cantu remembers the day the two left shelter. “They were packing up their car and were so excited, planning how they were going to live in a place that was really their own and where they were truly safe for the first time in their lives. It was beautiful to watch.”

Helping Kids by Helping Dads

Helping Kids by Helping Dads

Marcus Griggs was ready for a new challenge when he accepted the position of Fatherhood Specialist at SafePlace, where he has been has been making a difference as a Children’s Advocate since 2001. Marcus’s new role is part of the new Project HOPES initiative, a partnership between SafePlace, Any Baby Can, and Austin Children’s Services that serves families under stress who have children up to the age of five.

“I’ve really seen first-hand how poor choices in parenting affect kids,” says Marcus, “But a lot of dads don’t know where to go when they have questions.”

So Marcus is working with dads enrolled in Project HOPES to learn self-care strategies to manage their stress and meet their own needs, develop positive discipline strategies, and really envision what kind of father they each want to be.

“Sometimes there’s an assumption that fathers are not interested in taking an active role in parenting, but I think a lot of dads just don’t know where to start, or don’t feel invited to participate,” Marcus explains.

Marcus will help these fathers learn how to be a positive part of their kids’ lives. Through in home visits, Marcus and other parent-child specialists can observe how the family interacts and help parents learn specific strategies that will create a healthy home environment, in which parents and kids see their stress levels go down.

Marcus will also work with the fathers on ways that they can bond with their children, like setting aside time to read every night. “Studies actually show that when both parents read to their child, that kid develops even stronger language skills,” he says, “The child really takes different lessons from each parent.”

Many parents enrolled in Project HOPES were abused as kids. This gives these parents a chance to learn how to break that cycle, manage their own stress, and really build a healthy relationship with their children.

When talking to Marcus about his new role, it’s clear that becoming the Project HOPES Fatherhood Specialist is really just a new way for Marcus to continue doing what he has always loved: helping kids.

To enroll in Project HOPES, contact Caitlin Red at referrals@strongstartfamilies.org.

The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep

By Gwenyth Jett

I avoided group therapy for a few years. I don’t really know why. Probably fear of the unknown. I was afraid all the time in those days. Eventually, my need to connect with someone, anyone, overcame my fear of the groups. I couldn’t talk to my family because it upset them too much.

Wow. I liked it so much and felt so good, I tried to go to two sessions a day. I figured the more I went the faster I would get better. I felt so broken, I just wanted to feel whole again. I learned there is a limit to what I could process ……I had to be gentle and thoughtful about my own ability to heal.

What happened was amazing and so healing. The women in the groups became my friends. Girl friends. It had been so long since I’d had a girlfriend. We cared about each other and watched out for each other. We still do.

We are a force of Amazonian proportions……our hearts are that big. We are activists individually and as a group. Our love for each other has moved mountains. And our girlfriend groups just keep growing as we find sisters to add to our sisterhood.

We have healed each other and we are starting to heal our communities….our words and our intentions are powerful. We listen to each other and love each other. It’s just what we do. It’s the way we roll.

The therapy groups at SafePlace gave me a new life and a new way to design my new life. I learned to be supportive and to be supported. I learned to listen and I learned to share. I learned to laugh again.

I learned I need company. I learned to choose my company wisely.

Addressing PTSD Through Acupuncture

Addressing PTSD Through Acupuncture

by Rosa Harper, Supportive Housing Advocate

It’s 10 AM on a Thursday morning at SafePlace. The Reception area slowly fills with people, mostly women, of various ages, races, and demeanors. Several know each other and chat cheerfully in the waiting area. Several others stand nervously around the reception desk. They come from various backgrounds and social circles, but are all here for a similar reason- to receive a form of acupuncture that addresses Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

A few minutes past the hour another woman sweeps through the door; smiling warmly at the room she signs her name in the volunteer book. She smells like rose and sandalwood and the crowd that has gathered begins to stand up and follow her as she walks down the hallway. Her name is Barbara Biro and she is here to serve them.

Joining the group, I gather the forms they’ve signed and  we all file down the hall to settle into a room where soft lighting and soothing music begin to put at ease those whose nerves are on edge. Barbara speaks easily to those with questions, paying special attention to the people who are here for the first time. There are several direct service staff people who have come for the healing benefits of the acupuncture as well and we greet each other and relax into the space, grateful for the opportunity to receive and let go of the stresses we have collected.

The needles go in, five in each ear, and the room begins to quiet. Some people curl up and go to sleep, others close their eyes and seem to disappear into meditation, while others read a book or scroll on their phone. Despite the fact that we are often times piled on top of one another in order to fit into the room, there seems to be spaciousness here and time melts away. Barbara keeps circling the room, responding to the requests of those who want additional healing support with pain. She offers comfort, immediate relief through her healing wisdom, and sound advice to those who are in distress. After about 45 minutes the room starts to wake up and the needles are removed. Most are smiling and speak their gratitude, promising to return next week if their busy lives permit.

Since beginning her service in April of 2014, Barbara has seen over 200 SafePlace clients. She has come dependably, weekly, quietly creating a stream of well being behind her and a happy buzz around the office. The stories clients tell her, and me, about their experience are remarkable. Years of living with panic attacks, suddenly relieved. One woman who stated she was dependent on her anxiety medication in order to even leave her house, now says she is off her medication.  Most results are not so dramatic, but many are noticeable and immediate. Many report that the positive effects last for several days after treatment, some report weeks.

What I find most inspiring is the shift I see in the outlook people have on their own healing. What was once a lifetime diagnosis, what once seemed to be immovable and out of their control- is now something that can be treated within an hour and without medication (and for free!). I see the treatment as having something of a “tuning fork” effect on the body. Acupuncture acknowledges the holistic, holographic nature of the body and seeks to align it with its original state of health and harmony. A traumatic event can create disharmony in the energetic body- it can literally throw you out of tune. Through watching Barbara work, and receiving the treatment myself, I have observed that acupuncture heals the underlying cause of the symptoms by addressing, energetically, the parts of the body that are most affected by traumatic events.

I am hopeful that we will continue to be able to offer this service to the community, since I have seen such powerful results from the short time it has been available here through the loving service of Barbara Biro.

Many Blessings to All,

Rosa

For more information on Acupuncture at SafePlace you can contact Rosa Harper at
(512) 356-1650.
For more information on Barbara Biro, her experience and her offerings, please visit her website

Men need to speak up against violence

Men need to speak up against violence

By Bob May and Mark Mouritsen

The Ray Rice saga will live on – we have the video and it’s not going away. And there have been no limit to the number of available demons to blame: Ray Rice for knocking his then-girlfriend unconscious and pulling her limp body from the elevator; the NFL for punishing this assault with only a two-game suspension; football enthusiasts for turning a blind eye until it became impossible to ignore; the Ravens for continuing to celebrate and support Ray Rice even after the domestic violence became known; the media for showing the appalling video over and over again; the list is endless. A fair share of the blame was even ludicrously cast at Janay Palmer Rice, for “going back” and “standing by her man.”

As men who stand against domestic violence, as fathers of daughters, and men who celebrate family as a place of peace and stability, we note that there is one little person who is a victim in the truest sense of the word. What of Ray and Janay’s two-year old daughter? A little girl who will now grow up watching this horrific video as it plays over and over again into the future.

We find ourselves asking, how could this have been different for her? And it always comes back to her father’s actions. What if Ray Rice had never hit Janay? What if he had held his anger, gotten off the elevator, and walked away?

Or what if, after hitting his fiancée, Ray Rice had acknowledged his actions, approached his team and asked for help? What if he wouldn’t stop asking until real and effective batterer’s intervention treatment was provided?

What if Janay had also been linked to a counseling service, helped in developing a safety plan, and supported as she worked to save her marriage or to create a new life for herself and her daughter?

What if Ray Rice’s subsequent actions made his actions in the elevator into a turning point in his family’s life, rather than a shameful episode that will live on in infamy?

We serve as board members of the LIFT Alliance, SafePlace and Austin Children’s Services. LIFT was formed as a partnership between SafePlace and ACS, because sexual and domestic violence and child abuse are all too often linked in the lives of the people served by these organizations.

We know that violence against women also hurts children. Did the NFL and the Ravens give any thought to the toddler living with this man? Children do watch their mothers being beaten and even killed; 39 Texas children witnessed the murder of their mothers in Texas in 2013 – violence these children will live with for the rest of their lives. The mothers, however, weren’t given the chance to live with the violence. They were murdered by the person who professed to love them.

We are men who are working actively to end violence against women and children, and we believe that it is time to enlist the support of all men in this effort. We stand as fathers of daughters, sons of mothers, husbands of wives, and we stand as men who celebrate family as a place of peace and stability. Most men don’t treat women this way, of course. But all men should be thinking about actions instead of indifference.

As men, we have kept our heads in the sand about violence and abuse for far too long. We have allowed ourselves to believe that simply by being non-violent in our own lives, we are doing enough. It’s time for us to lead the effort to eradicate this silent epidemic. Men who conduct themselves in this way create a stigma for all men. We pledge to make elimination of violence, in all forms, a top priority in the conduct of our daily lives. Who among you will stand with us?

(Originally appeared in the Austin American Statesman)

Ten Things You Should Do Before You Leave

Ten Things You Should Do Before You Leave

The #WhyIStayed hashtag is one of the most positive developments that came out of the Ray Rice story this week. Survivors and advocates took over social media to offer the many complex reasons people stay in violent relationships. The fact is that leaving an abusive relationship is difficult, complicated, and very often dangerous – in fact, a woman is 75% more likely to be killed in the three months after leaving an abuser than any other time in the relationship.

Here’s what you should do, plan for, and remember as you’re preparing to leave an abusive relationship:

  1. Open a savings account and/or get a credit card in your own name.
  2. Get your own post office box so you can receive mail and checks safely.
  3. Leave money, an extra set of keys, copies of important papers, extra medicine and clothes with someone you trust so you can leave quickly.
  4. If there is a neighbor you can trust, ask them to call 911 if they hear a disturbance coming from your house.
  5. Choose a code word you can use with people you trust to let them know when to call the police.
  6. Plan where you will go if you have to leave your house (even if you don’t think you are going to need it). If your abuser knows your friends and family members, then those won’t be safe locations for you. Call the SafePlace hotline at 512-267-7233 if you need emergency shelter.
  7. Save and document all contacts, messages, injuries or other incidents involving the abuser.
  8. Make sure that “location services” is turned off on your cell phone, social media accounts, notepads, and any other electronic device or service that can identify your location to your abuser.
  9. Call SafePlace at 512-267-SAFE, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, to get help in making a safety plan that is specific to your needs and your situation.
  10. Have positive thoughts about yourself. You don’t deserve to be abused, no matter what anyone has told you. Trust your instincts and your judgment.

For more information on safety planning, visit our website at http://safeplace.org/help/safetyplanning/

Peer Support: Survivors Helping Each Other Heal

Peer Support: Survivors Helping Each Other Heal
Lisa, Peer Support Volunteer

Lisa, Peer Support Volunteer

There are times when all of us need a role model to show us what we can do and where we might go. And sometimes, after months or even years of isolation, “I’ve been there,” are the words survivors need to hear the most.

That’s why we’ve started connecting people who have come through our programs with those at the very beginning of their healing process. The program, called Peer Support, began through the efforts of Lisa Pous, who has remained connected to SafePlace since spending two years in shelter and supportive housing recovering from abuse and trauma.

Even after Lisa felt like she had reached a place of peace in her own life, she kept coming back. “I thought to myself, I know how to get through crisis now, and I know how to survive. But I want more.” So Lisa engaged with SafePlace, and she helped bring the perspective of a survivor to her role as a volunteer leader and educator in the Life Skills and Survivor Voices program. “Then one day I tripped on a TEDTalk and realized that there was a name for what I’d been doing,” she said, “Peer support!” It was the missing piece.

The program is in many ways a return to the roots of the domestic violence movement, which has always been survivor-led. Lisa worked with staff members to develop training and supervisory protocols, while also working toward her own Peer Support Specialist certification. The Peer Support program is trauma-informed, survivor centered, and empowerment based, with roots in the 12-step model and social justice movement. And today at SafePlace, 14 Peer Support Volunteers meet twice a month with survivors staying in the Kelly White Emergency Shelter.

Victims of abuse have often experienced months or even years of isolation from other support systems like family, friends and co-workers. Through the Peer Support Program, they are able to begin building new relationships with people who know what they are going through.

“Peer Support is the greatest instiller of hope we can provide,” says Supportive Housing Advocacy Manager Erin Goodison. “For our clients, seeing survivors who have successfully rebuilt their lives — and now dedicate their time to helping others — is both inspiration and motivation through difficult times.”

Knowing that the person facilitating group has left violence and trauma and reached a place of safety, stability and peace can be more impactful for survivors than any statistic, book or brochure that we could share with them. Peer Support gives people healing from violence, abuse and trauma a person to look to and say, “I could be like that.”

How UT got it right on sexual assault

How UT got it right on sexual assault
Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez

Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez

More than 50 colleges are currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for mishandling sexual assault cases. But right now at the University of Texas at Austin, we’re seeing a model for how college administrations should handle these cases: by supporting survivors from the very beginning.

Head football coach Charlie Strong may be the best inoculation against a culture of rape on campus that we’ve seen in our 40 years of providing services to the survivors of sexual assault. Three of Strong’s five core principles relate directly to abuse or the actions that lead to it: respect women, don’t use guns and avoid drugs.

Strong deserves credit for naming these behaviors and following through with immediate suspensions of Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander from the team (as well as several other players who couldn’t meet these expectations, which are, let’s be honest, not exactly a high bar to clear). The suspensions send a powerful message across the multimillion-dollar Longhorn football universe: Respect for women is a prerequisite for playing football for the university.

This was followed by a public statement from UT-Austin President Bill Powers in which he backed up the coach and said the university “vigorously investigate[s] all allegations so we can take the appropriate action.”

This is where change begins: at the top. Right now in the U.S., only three out of every 100 rapists ever receives any jail time. The news this summer has been full of stories of colleges where a culture of suspicion, silence and intimidation was devastating for women who reported sexual assaults.

On too many campuses, victims don’t believe their allegations will be taken seriously, so they don’t report them at all — which allows rapists to attack again and again (an average of six times, according to aggregate research). Make no mistake: UT-Austin is no exception, at least not yet — while one in five women report being sexually assaulted in their time at college, only nine cases of sexual assault have been reported to UT-Austin police in the past four years.

Yet the repercussions of these strong statements from leadership are already being felt at the university. TheHouston Chronicle reported that the school has experienced “sharp growth” in allegations of sexual assault since the story broke. That’s what happens when victims begin to trust in a system that treats their experiences as crimes rather than misunderstandings that are best swept under the rug.

But there’s another piece to the UT-Austin story that deserves attention. According to Powers’ statement, every student on campus receives sexual assault prevention training. The Austin American-Statesman reported that the first call to police in this case came from a bystander, who reported a “crying, barefoot and ‘disheveled’” woman in the dorm lobby. That shows that some anonymous student took the time to recognize his or her responsibility to get help for a woman in distress.

I don’t know if you can trace that back to the training that students received or not. But I do know that an essential piece in creating a culture of accountability is to train bystanders to recognize their role in preventing assaults and supporting survivors. Would the police have been called if this incident had happened on another campus? With an 18 percent rate of report on Texas campuses, the answer to that question is all too clear.

College campuses should be a home away from home for their students. Unfortunately, at schools in Texas and across the nation, the focus of a sexual assault investigation too often centers on what a victim was wearing, how much she had to drink, or whether she really did want to have sex and now just feels bad about it.

But with their recent words, and in working to ensure that students and staff are prepared to respond to sexual assault with sensitivity, respect and accountability — regardless of who the perpetrators are — Powers and Strong set an example for the rest of the country.

Let’s all hope that what starts here changes the world.

This story originally appeared on TribTalk.org