By Mara W. Elliott
Domestic violence rips at the fabric of our families, leaving its survivors feeling ashamed, isolated, and fearful. Those who muster the courage to leave often don’t know where to go to get the support they need.
Twenty years ago, victims of domestic violence had to navigate a web of agencies to obtain the essential services. The challenges could be daunting: scheduling a dozen or more appointments, arranging for childcare, taking time off work, finding transportation, and never knowing about the services you might be missing. It was a daunting challenge.
That’s when something remarkable happened. A few dedicated San Diegans – including former City Attorney Casey Gwinn — recognized how the fragmented system was delaying or even denying the healing that survivors and their families desperately needed. So, they created the world’s first Family Justice Center, known today as Your Safe Place.
Victims of domestic violence in the City of San Diego now come to one location to meet with an advocate, obtain a restraining order, create a safety plan, meet with a counselor, obtain police reports, receive medical assistance, counsel with a chaplain, get help with transportation and housing, and obtain nutrition and wellness services.
These services, provided by on-site partners, are confidential, free, and offered without judgment to empower clients to move forward with their lives.
The success of San Diego’s one-stop shop for domestic violence victims quickly received recognition at the highest levels.
Then-President George W. Bush was so impressed with its success after just one year in operation that the Department of Justice allocated more than $20 million in grants to establish 15 family justice centers in the United States.
Your Safe Place has only grown in the years since. It now provides services to other vulnerable individuals who are subject to exploitation and abuse: victims of sex trafficking, sexual assault, family violence, and elder abuse.
YSP now works with more than 60 community organizations that generously provide services that include counseling, forensic medical examinations, restraining orders, housing support and financial security, immigration services, and parenting assistance.
Recognizing the extreme risk posed by abusers with guns, YSP also protects clients by obtaining Gun Violence Restraining Orders to remove firearms from dangerous situations before a tragedy occurs.
The number of domestic violence incidents remains tragically high. Every hour in America almost 1,200 people report being physically abused by a domestic intimate partner. It’s a difficult statistic to even process: almost 1,200 people every hour of every day.
Your Safe Place offers a haven for victims — a literal safe place where they can come to heal and move forward with their lives.
Over the past two decades, the Family Justice Center movement has spread far and wide. There are now more than 100 Family Justice Centers across the United States as well as centers in more than 20 countries around the world.
Family Justice Centers, like Your Safe Place, have been identified as a “best practice” in helping domestic violence victims and their children.
As we celebrate 20 years of providing assistance to San Diegans and October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we hope you can help as well. Your Safe Place holds an annual Halloween drive, a holiday party, a school backpack drive, and other events to help normalize life for children who have been affected by violence in their homes.
Sadly, most of us know someone who has been a victim of family violence or sex crimes. But we all benefit from helping these victims and their children move forward with their lives.
If you want to learn more about YSP’s services or are interested in touring YSP, located downtown, visit the Your Safe Place website.
Elliott is San Diego City Attorney.