As stories from communities devastated by natural disasters continue to unfold, I, like many others, am struck by how much of a difference it makes to have financial resources and social support in the face of danger and destruction. True, a storm does not discriminate, and huge numbers of people from all walks of life lost power, water, and in some cases sustained significant injury or major property damage. But being able to afford housing that is built to modern code, or simply owning a vehicle can make all the difference when facing these hurdles. Similarly, so can having the support of family or friends who can afford to take you in and provide a safe haven, or even send money for the unexpected expenses that emerge in the weeks and months after a disaster strikes.

The same applies to survivors of domestic abuse, who face a different kind of ongoing trauma and catastrophe. Having resources like access to strong legal representation, safe housing, and a network of people who can offer help all pave the way for an individual to feel safe in their choice to leave an abusive relationship.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While Journey to Safety and other domestic abuse programs try to raise awareness about this issue all year long, in October there is a spotlight that challenges us to think about how we can create a safer community. So many of the people who seek services from Journey to Safety have stories that begin with someone reaching out to them at a key moment. One woman called us because a friend asked her whether she felt safe at home and she realized that, in fact, she did not. Another called because she shared a brief glimpse of her life with a stranger on the playground and that person referred her to Journey to Safety. Many others call at the gentle suggestion of clergy, friends, family, co-workers…all forms of community support. Some even call because they simply found the number on a poster on a bathroom stall door, placed there by someone who wanted to help.

October is a good time to ask our communities and ourselves how we might continue to build support for survivors in our midst. Are there posters with helpline numbers up in restrooms and other private spaces? Are our community leaders encouraging survivors to reach out for help and holding abusive individuals accountable? Are we talking about this issue, particularly within the Jewish community, where there is still a common belief that Jews neither behave abusively toward their partner nor get involved with people who do? Are our teens aware of dating abuse and how to recognize it?

As we look ahead to this new year, please let us know how Journey to Safety can support your efforts. We can send helpline posters for your restrooms. We can work with you to plan an awareness-raising program for teens or adults. We can help identify helpline numbers for bulletins and newsletters or help you think about creative and interesting ways to bring this issue to groups with which you are involved.

Support can make all the difference in the world to a person who is in a controlling or abusive relationship. We hope that you will join us in helping to make our communities safer and healthier for everyone.

Our Journey to Safety staff joins me in wishing you and your families peace, health and joy in this new year.

Elizabeth Schön Vainer has been the program director of Journey to Safety, the domestic abuse program of JF&CS, since March 2010. Elizabeth is passionate about Journey to Safety’s commitment to prevent domestic abuse. She believes that we must work at the individual, community, and legislative levels to shift our societal view that allows abusive behavior to remain so prevalent and damaging. When we focus on speaking up, listening to, and collaborating with others we can have a real impact. Prior to working at JF&CS, Elizabeth worked for 25 years in victim services at both the Middlesex and Suffolk County District Attorney’s offices. Elizabeth holds a BSW from the University of Tel Aviv and an MS in organization and management from Antioch University.

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