Support SafePlace – don’t undermine it

For more than 30 years, victims of sexual assault and domestic violence have found at SafePlace the support and sometimes shelter they need to survive the emotional torment of abuse.

More than 10,000 people and their children have turned to SafePlace in their effort to escape domestic violence and break its inherent inter-generational cycle. More than 5,000 people have sought out the local nonprofit to put their lives back together following sexual assaults and abuse.

And SafePlace has delivered distinguished results. Working in partnership with nearly 30 other community-based organizations, SafePlace has built a stellar reputation throughout the South Sound and across the nation.

The federal Department of Justice has recognized the innovative and effective programming at SafePlace by selecting it as one of just six nonprofits nationwide in a pilot project to document best practices.

SafePlace has earned the trust of countless families and survivors of sexual and domestic violence by providing what each individual needed when they needed it. The nonprofit also has earned the admiration of the South Sound community during three decades for taking care of those among us during times of crisis and their darkest hours.

SafePlace stands with a select handful of other regional social service and advocacy groups that deserve a special status in our community.

For those reasons, the onus is on any other individuals or organizations committed to helping survivors of sexual and domestic violence to find ways to work in close collaboration with SafePlace. They should not disrespect SafePlace’s legacy of proven success in the South Sound by duplicating services or competing for resources and support.

The promoters of bringing a national movement, called Family Justice Centers, to Olympia have not done enough to assure the community that they won’t undermine SafePlace’s nationally acclaimed 24-hour, seven-day-per-week programs.

The FJC promoters – Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim, Sheriff John Snaza and County Clerk Betty Gould – have not yet made the case that an unfilled need exists, only that caseloads continue to grow.

Instead of creating another entity that proposes to bring no new services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, those pushing an FJC model should work collaboratively with SafePlace to expand its capacity.

The FJC would duplicate what SafePlace already does exceptionally well. It does not purport to offer superior services and it would not extend services to fill some perceived void.

In fact, the FJC would not be available 24-7 to those in crisis.

But an FJC would compete with SafePlace for funding. And it would create confusion around an established community service where none exists today. An FJC runs the risk of fragmenting what should be a coordinated and comprehensive approach.

At its worst, the philosophical underpinnings of the Family Justice Center movement could channel survivors through a legal and prosecutorial system they did not want and which, in some cases, could compromise their personal safety.

The 22nd Legislative District legislative delegation agrees with this view.

In separate letters to the key drivers behind the FJC proposal, they said, “We have concerns that a government-funded Family Justice Center might not be the most socially and culturally appropriate approach for many survivors and victims who tend to be leery of law enforcement and government. In addition, we have concerns that a criminal justice system agency, such as a Family Justice Center, cannot guarantee confidentiality for its clients to the same degree as can community-based advocates and service providers.”

We believe our sheriff, prosecutor and county clerk are well-intentioned, and there is no doubt that domestic and sexual violence is a serious problem in the South Sound as it is across America.

But it’s bad for everyone to create conflict in a small community over a cause that should spawn unity.

It also is disconcerting to us that the FJC proposal comes midway in the SafePlace $4.7 million capital campaign to construct a LEED Silver-certified Community Service Center on its current downtown location. The new building is key to taking SafePlace’s proven services and advocacy efforts to the next level.

We believe the mission of SafePlace – to focus on the unique needs of each sexual or domestic violence survivor – has proven most effective in our community. We worry about the FJC model, started by a former California prosecutor and based on a conservative world view, which is designed primarily to prosecute perpetrators.

SafePlace has worked collaboratively with law enforcement, our courts and the county for 30 years. They have produced excellent outcomes together.

There is no reason to fix a system that is not broken.

A collaborative effort to support SafePlace in building the Community Service Center will best serve the South Sound.