The first thing that shows the protective measures taken by SafePlace, a charity dedicated to ending sexual and domestic violence, is the warning that appears when you visit their site:
“Do not use this website if you suspect your computer is being monitored. Websites and e-mail history may be viewable even if you delete your browser history and delete files. Access a safe computer to use the Internet.”
On each page of the website there is a large blue button labeled “Quick Escape from site” that takes you to the front page of the Austin-American Statesman. In their safety and technology resources, they advise those preparing to flee their abuser to turn off location-tracking on their phones, to call an unrelated “safe” number after they’ve called a domestic violence hotline to prevent redial and to be careful how they arrange travel plans. “Use a safe computer to research an escape plan, look for new jobs, apartments, bus tickets or to ask for help.“
These precautions are absolutely necessary.
According to a report by the Texas Council on Family Violence, 38% of Texas women have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime. That is one in three. In 2010 alone, 142 Texas women were killed by an intimate partner.
Abusers use a variety of tactics to isolate and maintain control over their victims, monitoring them and invading their privacy in any way they can. Warns the SafePlace website: “It used to be that someone had to be very technically adept in order to tweak technology to use it for anything other than its intended purpose. However, our dependence upon these devices and the accessibility of information makes that dependence dangerous.”
Leaving an abuser takes time and resources and trustworthy allies and is made more difficult when the person in crisis is blocked from accessing information, has children to protect or is economically dependent on the person who is hurting them.
It grew out of a partnership between the Austin Rape Crisis Center and Austin’s Center for Battered Women, which consolidated in 1998 to create a community “free of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence.”
They run a 24-hour crisis hotline, allowing those fleeing abuse to do so with information and access to community services. They provide hospital advocacy to victims of sexual assault, answering questions and providing support during forensic examinations and legal advocacy for those needing protective orders, legal advice or simply someone to sit next to them in court. They maintain the Kelly White Family Shelter for women and children in crisis, as well as a separate shelter for men, removing vulnerable individuals from desperate situations.
SafePlace also has community education and outreach programs to change the larger dialogue in Austin.
One of the programs they support, Gender Matters, is an effort to introduce accurate information to young adults in Texas, which is third in the country for teenage pregnancy.
Recognizing the disproportionate targeting of people with disabilities for abuse — since abusers often seek out and “groom” people who are less able to defend themselves — SafePlace developed Disability Services ASAP (A Safety Awareness Program) which educates the disabled, disability advocates and caregivers on abuse prevention within caregiving/service networks. Even after the initial emergency has passed, SafePlace provides transitional services and counseling to move families forward and break the cycle of abuse.
You can support SafePlace by making a credit card donation through the I Live Here, I Give Here network, donating new or gently-used items from their wish list, or by joining their volunteer program. Because the work they do is so important and hinges on safety, the volunteer application process is intensive:
Because of our sensitivity to client safety and confidentiality, volunteering with survivors, children or representing SafePlace in the community consists of a commitment to the organization which begins with attending a Volunteer Orientation, a criminal background check, an interview with the volunteer services manager and a 40 hour Volunteer Training. There are various other volunteer opportunities with less commitment or that are more suited for groups.
If that sounds like something you can do, they have a training session starting in February. Please consider supporting SafePlace in any way you can; it is an investment in your local community and the safety and well-being of the next generation. “In all traditions the winter holidays bring thoughts of home, goodwill, gratitude and family," says Executive Director of SafePlace, Julia Spann. "Those thoughts are extra painful when you are struggling with violence in your family, homelessness and an uncertain future. Please consider making participation in the SafePlace giving program part of your personal or family celebrations this season.”