Article by Bill Harrah in Transylvania Times

SAFE Increases Services To Victims

Even as lawmakers debate budget problems that are likely to result in more cuts to social services funding, SAFE is increasing its efforts to meet needs of battered women and children in Transylvania County.
Government funding cuts in the past year forced SAFE to relocate to smaller quarters for its offices and one of its resale shops. It also had to cut back on part time help at its shelter. Its full-time professional staffers filled those gaps by taking extra shifts at the shelter.
Lawmakers are debating further reductions in social service funding that will squeeze organizations like SAFE even more. SAFE is Transylvania’s front line against domestic violence and sexual assault.
Despite these challenges, clients continue receiving the full range of SAFE services, according to Salley Stepp, SAFE’s executive director, who said the number of victims seeking help dropped slightly during the second half of 2010 but the level of services they got from SAFE increased dramatically.
Despite a 4 percent decline in clients seeking domestic violence services, SAFE and its 150 volunteers sought 37 percent more protective orders, attended 79 percent more hearings and obtained 60 percent more court decrees ordering abusers to stay away from their victims.
Violating a protective order means abusers must answer to the court. Victims do not have to press charges. SAFE’s courtroom assistance is provided almost entirely by volunteers. Stepp pointed out, “They are not lawyers, but they understand how the system works.”
SAFE court volunteers guide victims through the legal process and provide emotional support for women seeking protective orders. Many are encountering the legal system for the first time. After determining what their clients want, SAFE volunteers stay by their side through the daunting experience of coping with judges, lawyers and courtroom spectators in a very personal time.
SAFE volunteers helped provide a 22 percent jump in services to domestic violence victims. These spanned the entire range of the group’s offerings, from emergency shelter and information about domestic violence to referrals to community services, advocacy, transportation, hospital visits, courtroom assistance, counseling and even helping victims establish new households.
Domestic violence is all about control, Stepp explained. Four out of five abusers learned their behavior as children from their parents. “They learn early how a household should be run,” she said. They exercise the same controls over their loved ones, using  physical violence, intimidation, emotional abuse, threatening divorce and taking the children, even threatening to commit suicide.
Stacey’s House, SAFE’s shelter, saw a 21 percent rise in victims seeking haven from domestic abuse. SAFE provided a security and more than 3,700 free meals to the 80 women and children who sought safe haven from their abusers during the year.
No one is required to stay in Stacey’s House to receive help from SAFE. Of those who do, many came with only the clothes they were wearing. SAFE issues clothing vouchers from SAFE’s Attic resale shop for those in need.
Many brought pets. “Pets are a frequent means of control for abusers,” Stepp explained. That’s why Stacey’s House provides a kennel, along with a large enclosed playground for children and a state of the art security system with police telephone numbers on speed dial.
An important feature of Stacey’s House is the immediate support victims receive, not only from trained domestic violence counselors but also from fellow victims. Counselors might help victims make connections with marriage counselors for trying to resolve domestic problems, find critical community services and even make plans for the future. Fellow victims, meanwhile, provide sympathetic ears and the ability to immediately relate to victims’ troubles.
The number of sexual assault victims rose about 15 percent during the year, and the number and level of services rose dramatically. Noting a near five-fold spike in sexual assault services, Stepp said these often include advocacy for victims who are trying to cope with the trauma of rape in a brightly lit hospital emergency room setting, where medical staff, police and family members are likely to be claiming priority. SAFE’s advocate helps the victim reassert control over this chaos.
Other sexual assault services provided by SAFE include information about sexual assault in its many forms, referrals to community services, transportation to appointments and counseling services provided by SAFE and other professionals in addition to court assistance in obtaining protective orders.
SAFE’s professional counselors were very busy in 2010. In addition to a 44 percent increase in domestic violence counseling and a 77 percent jump in sexual assault counseling, SAFE conducted 88 percent more group counseling sessions. Only the number of abusers in counseling declined during the year, from 110 to 86. These are usually assigned by the court to attend SAFE counseling, Stepp said.
Outside the realm of victim services provided by SAFE, the New Leaf Program, started in 2008 to provide life skills training to members of the community, saw a big increase in attendance, rising from a few dozen last year to 490 attending free workshops in the second half of 2010.
Stepp said the program was begun with domestic violence victims in mind, to help them realize their strengths and abilities, but also for anyone wishing to identify and reach goals to improve their situations. Workshops are open the entire community.
Past workshop topics have included nutrition, fitness, resumes, car care, gardening, parenting, money management and women’s health, all taught by community members with expertise in each topic.
Starting in March New Leaf will present a workshop series on searching for a job. Topics will include career exploration, fine-tuning your resume, interviewing techniques, effective communications and networking. For more information on these free seminars, contact Missy McGill at 885-7233 or through the website, newleafprogram.org.
The backbone of SAFE and other area nonprofits is its volunteers. While many choose to help “in the trenches” with direct client interaction, most of SAFE’s volunteers help out at its two resale shops, which together provide about half of the organization’s operating funds. SAFE’s Attic, specializing in used clothing, is located on N. Broad St., down the hill from the courthouse. Attic Interiors, specializing in used household furnishings, is at 144 E. Main St., across from Quotations Coffee CafĂ©.
During the past six months SAFE’s approximately 150 volunteers logged 9,782 hours, up nearly 20 percent over the same period of 2009. Volunteer typically donate a morning or an afternoon each week. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, contact volunteer coordinator Mary Price at 884-2615.
For more information about SAFE and domestic abuse, visit SafeBrevard.com.