Safe Horizon has been helping victims for about 30 years now and has many different ways of aiding those who have been involved in domestic violence.
The organization’s motto is “moving victims of domestic violence from crisis to confidence.” It has been in all five boroughs and, in Queens, has a presence in family court, criminal court and through a community program in Jackson Heights, among other programs.
Through its family court programs, Safe Horizon counselors meets with many domestic violence victims refereed by law enforcement, word of mouth or social workers. Many of them are seeking orders of protections or at least more information about them.
“We see people when they’re in crisis, and they’ve decided that they need to court intervention,” explained Nancy Shea, Safe Horizon’s program director of Queens Family Court Programs. “We provide safety assessments, risk management, crisis counseling. Basically we help people understand their options and provide emotional support and target referrals in the community.”
Other ways Safe Horizon assists is by explaining the legal process, being an advocate for the victim, assisting with public benefits, making referrals for practical services, photographing injuries, providing transportation on a case by case basis and explaining additional support that is available.
“In family court, we really walk people through the process to make sure that they’re able to get the court intervention they came for,” Shea said.
Safe Horizon operates a reception center where victims can wait for their court appearance so they are in a safe and supportive environment. It also has a play area for children. This makes sure that the victim does not have to wait in the same area as the person they have filed against.
Safe Horizons, which is also part of the Family Justice Center in Kew Gardens, offers programs in criminal court has well. They assist with assessments, safety planning, legal referrals, getting copies of orders of protection, shelter placement, advocacy work, court accompaniment and liaison with other offices, among other services.
The criminal court programs also include a children’s center so that children don’t have to be in the courtroom.
Crime victims, including many domestic violence victims, can receive services at Safe Horizon’s community center, which opened in Jackson Heights in the ‘80s. Carol Dougherty-Steptoe, the associate vice president for Queens Community and Criminal Justice Programs at Safe Horizon, explained that the community center is where people can get more of the long-term services.
There are counselors who work in the center to assist clients. In addition, there are support groups in English and Spanish, parenting groups, yoga, a children’s group and a sexual assault group. They also do advocacy for legal services and provide other referrals.
Rehana Zala, a senior counselor and site supervisor for Community Programs at Safe Horizon, said one of the biggest challenges they face is working with immigrants, many of whom are undocumented.
“They are so scared they sometimes don’t know what their rights are when they first come,” Zala said. “It’s challenging to get services for them.”
Dougherty-Steptoe said she thinks the Safe Horizon staff is “really excellent in trying to deal with the various cultures in Queens. I think that’s a strength in Queens, but it’s also a challenge because I think that staff have to be that much more aware of some of the cultural nuances that they’re dealing with when working with clients.”
When working with victims, Dougherty-Steptoe said the key is not to tell them what to do. Instead, she said they try to have a client-centered approach where they offer options, give information and help them be as safe as possible.
Sheryl Leah Zolden, Safe Horizon’s Director of Queens Criminal and Supreme Court Programs, explained, “We meet our clients where the clients are at. We’re here for them whenever they’re ready. We’ll be there for whatever step of the process they’re at.”
Dougherty-Steptoe said the organization is looking at trying to increase its presence in Jamaica and Far Rockaway. She said it might not be by opening a community center, but instead through presentations, outreach, and agency partnerships.
For more information about Safe Horizon, visit www.safehorizon.org or call their hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE.
For more on Part III of our domestic violence series:
Orders of protection and other laws