Safe Passage provides services for survivors of domestic violence

By Jaclyn Bryson

Sparked by the rising feminist movement and backed by the dedication of volunteers, Necessities/Necesidades first opened its doors in 1977 to spread awareness of domestic violence and lend a helping hand to those who needed it

Over 30 years later, the name of this group has changed, but the goal remains the same.

Safe Passage is based in Northampton and offers a variety of resources to those who are affected by domestic violence in Hampshire County. According to Executive Director Marianne Winters, these resources include a community program to help locals living with violence in any range, an emergency shelter which houses six families at a time and a prevention program called “Say Something,” aimed at preventing interpersonal violence.

“I’m really inspired by the idea of social change,” Winters said as to why she is promoting this line of work.

In the 2012 fiscal year, Safe Passage sheltered 44 adults and 35 children, answered 2,000 emergency hotline calls and helped 90 survivors get the legal help they needed, according to its website. According to Winters, these statistics generally remain the same annually.

“Our shelter is always full,” she said. “In our community program, different aspects… probably reach about 1,200 people overall in a year.”

And with the month of October dedicated to domestic violence awareness, all employees stressed the importance of reaching out to survivors and spreading the truth about the problem of domestic violence in this country. According to the Safe Passage website, one in four women and one in seven men are victims of severe assault at the hands of an intimate partner.

“Abuse sort of breeds in silence, whether that be silence on the part of the survivor or whether that be silence on the part of society and the bystanders that witness such violence happening,” Bridget Mulkerrins said. Mulkerrins is a children’s advocate with Safe Passage for five years.

“Any way that we can break that silence, any way that we can give a voice to the voiceless, helps to end the cycle of violence,” she said.

But some want to stress that a month devoted to awareness isn’t enough.
“I think that it shouldn’t just be one month. I think that it should be day to day,” said Karen Lopez, who is the Latina counselor/advocate and has worked at Safe Passage for three and a half years. “We should make everyone aware of, ‘What is domestic violence?’”

Mulkerrins facilitates programs year-round, such as one on one counseling with children and the non-offending parent. She also works with a support group aimed at how domestic violence impacts children and how to intervene, community outreach to local schools and advocacy support. That may even include speaking to lawyers and the Department of Children and Families to make sure the child gets the support needed.
And these services are available to all.

“Some people have a misunderstanding that we only serve women but that’s absolutely not true,” Mulkerrins said. “We serve all gender identities and sexual expressions. We don’t turn anyone away.”

In order to make all these programs and services possible, Safe Passage staffs 12 full-time workers and 15 part-time workers, according to Winters. And in this line of work, no two days are alike.

“Day in and day out you don’t know what you are going to come across through those doors,” Lopez said.

But despite being constantly around people who have suffered in their lifetime, for the employees at Safe Passage, it’s all worth it. Lopez recalled recently meeting with one client, who she recognized as being someone she had helped about a year and a half ago.

According to Lopez, this survivor stopped by to say thank you.

“(Each day is) spontaneous. It can be crazy. It can be happy. It can be sad. It can be everything and anything at any given time,” Lopez said. “But the outcome – that’s the reward.”

Safe Passage can be reached at 413-586-1125 and for those who need immediate help or advice, their 24-hour hotline can be reached at 888-345-5282.

Jaclyn Bryson can be reached at [email protected]