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Safe Futures makes this a safer place

In the 1970s, the criminal justice and healthcare systems, along with the public, hardly recognized the existence of domestic violence. Researchers of the day suggested women provoked their own abuse, and support services and shelters for women in crisis were virtually non-existent.

At that time and in that atmosphere the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut began a rape crisis hotline. Hotline operators soon realized that many callers' perpetrators were their husbands or boyfriends. The center responded by establishing several safe houses and a permanent emergency shelter.

This is one of the earliest examples of what the agency is most proud of: responding to community needs and breaking down barriers associated with a topic that remains a difficult one for many to discuss. The Women's Center was established in 1976 and the organization, renamed Safe Futures nearly a decade ago to make it clear its services are not for women alone, this year recognizes 45 years of service to victims of domestic violence, who are some of the most vulnerable and voiceless among us.

Southeastern Connecticut is certainly a better place because of this agency.

During its first 45 years, as the agency worked to foster a local atmosphere in which domestic violence isn't tolerated, it has also passed many noteworthy milestones. Among these are that it was the first domestic violence agency in the state to offer supportive housing in 1978. It also began programs that help teach anger management and communications skills to middle schoolers, forged partnerships with law enforcement to provide victim advocates at the time of domestic violence calls and, in 2012, enacted its Lethality Assessment Program that helps calculate the risk as to whether individual domestic violence victims will become murder victims.

More recently, the agency was recognized in 2018 as the first shelter and housing program in the state to accommodate pets. In 2020, it began participating in Camp HOPE, a program for children and teens affected by domestic violence. About a dozen children participated virtually last summer, and more will have the opportunity to experience camp, likely in person, this summer.

While societal and institutional attitudes about domestic violence have changed dramatically since Safe Futures was established, the statistics associated with it remain grim and grew grimmer during the pandemic. Melissa Zaitchik, director of development and communications, said domestic violence affects one in four women and one in seven men. About 35 percent of the criminal case dockets in New London and Norwich are domestic violence-related cases, Zaitchik said.

Safe Futures served some 7,000 clients last year, representing an increase of about 22 percent from the previous year. More clients needed to be housed in hotels because of social distancing requirements at shelters. This increased the agency's payments to hotels by more than 700 percent, Zaitchik said.

Looking to the future, the agency plans to have its family justice center open within two to three years. The Center for Safe Futures, to be located on Route 85 in Waterford, would offer comprehensive services such as housing, education, counseling, employment referrals and legal help under a single roof. Recognizing the severe emotional strains domestic violence victims face, establishing this one-stop service center has long been a goal for Safe Futures.

Southeastern Connecticut is truly fortunate to have this forward-thinking, action-oriented agency serving the residents of 21 towns in the region. We congratulate Safe Futures on its longevity and urge continued community support for the vital services the agency provides.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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