Domestic Violence Awareness month in the San Juans | Guest column

by Samantha

Community Advocate and Therapist for SAFE San Juans.

In 1987 October was chosen to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It stemmed from a “Day of Unity” that was observed by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to connect advocates across the country. The San Juan Islands are no exception when it comes to abuse; however, there are resources survivors of domestic violence can access for support. One of these resources is SAFE San Juans. Through our offices in Friday Harbor, Eastsound and Lopez Village, SAFE serves individuals and their loved ones who have experienced domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

People enter our doors through various ways. Some people call our 24-hour crisis lines (numbers below). Others may be referred by their doctor, teacher, pastor, other social service agency, co-worker, or friend. When law enforcement makes an arrest for assault, they give our agency name to the victim.

We offer free, confidential help to anyone who asks, regardless of age, gender, or language. Language Link is utilized for languages other than English. The first meeting includes assessing the situation and developing a safety plan. A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that helps people detect and avoid danger. This process helps them articulate and understand the cycle of abuse within their own relationship and how they can stay safe.

From there, we assess the needs of the individual and offer services they may benefit from. This includes legal advocacy, medical advocacy, therapy, referrals to other agencies, and crisis counseling. For legal advocacy, we help them fill out paperwork, prepare their testimony, and accompany them to court. We provide resources for people facing immigration, custody issues, or other legal challenges as a result of their abuse. For medical advocacy, we can accompany someone to the hospital/clinic for treatment of injuries or for a rape exam. Abusers may attempt to sabotage birth control or use physical intimidation to pressure a woman to become pregnant (adolescents are at particular risk), so we help obtain birth control and pregnancy tests, and we help assess for STD risk. Social and family support plays a key role in the healing process. We have two professional therapists on staff, as well as partnerships with other therapists in the community. We also provide services for family members and friends who are experiencing secondary trauma.

Sometimes we respond to phone calls in the middle of the night. Someone has decided to leave their abuser, and they are scared. Where can they go? Their abuser knows their friends and family. What about their children? We can help them find short-term confidential housing and transportation assistance. Together, we identify barriers to their safety and overcome those barriers.

Along with these services, we go into the schools and teach children and adolescents what healthy relationships look like and what they can do to ensure a healthier and safer environment for everyone that is free of abuse.

If you know someone living with abuse, please call our 24-hour crisis line. We can help. 24-Hour Crisis Lines: Lopez: 360-468-4567; San Juan: 360-378-2345; Orcas: 360-376-1234.

Editor’s note: To maintain the safety of its staff, SAFE does not release the last names of staff members.