By Libby Rosequist
Safe Journey is a domestic and dating violence service agency that was originally created in 1978 by a group of concerned citizens in Union City, Pa. By 1983, Safe Journey was incorporated and granted tax exempt status as a nonprofit agency.
“Since then, we have grown into an agency which provides a large array of services beyond shelter,” Kimberlee Pederson, Safe Journey counselor, said. “We are a member of PCADV, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which is the oldest statewide domestic violence coalition in the nation. Erie County is very fortunate to have two domestic violence advocacy organizations, ourselves and Safe Net.”
Safe Net provides services to the city of Erie and immediate surrounding areas, and Safe Journey services the rural areas of Erie County, particularly south of I-90.
Safe Journey now has the resources to provide its services to the residents of North East who may not have been able to travel or have access to the other established locations.
“We know that victims of domestic violence are in all areas of the county,” Pederson said. “We also recognize that transportation is a barrier for many rural victims of domestic violence and we have historically provided safe locations to meet with clients, beyond the shelter location, in Union City, Corry and Edinboro. We are excited to have this opportunity to expand to North East at a location that will be more accessible and familiar to people seeking services in the area.”
Safe Journey is offering a support group for victims of domestic violence on Mondays from noon to 4 p.m. at the 4 NINE center. If interested in one-on-one counseling, call Kim at 814-438-2675 to schedule an appointment. The online support group will be available on Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m.
Counselors and advocates of Safe Journey are individuals who have received specialized training in the complex dynamics of domestic violence. They are not mental health providers, but provide informed, caring, and non-judgmental support to anyone in an unhealthy interpersonal relationship, regardless of whether a person chooses to stay or leave that relationship.
They can also provide safety planning support, the critical process of developing a plan to enhance safety when living with or leaving an abuser. Many receive additional training in PFAs — Protection from Abuse Orders — and can assist victims through that process.
Safe Journey provides free and confidential services to victims of all forms of domestic violence, including:
• 24-hour phone hotline service;
• A chat line at the websites mysafejourney.org or safedatesmatter.org. Safedatesmatter.org is specifically for teens or parents of teens who may be experiencing dating violence;
• New online video individual and group counseling;
• Confidential individual and group counseling/support groups, both at the shelter location and other safe locations in the county;
• Confidential individual counseling for children experiencing domestic violence in their homes, provided at the shelter or in school setting;
• Emergency shelter as needed at the confidential Union City location for victims and the children under the age of 18;
• Safety Planning;
• Assistance in filing for Protection from Abuse (PFA);
• PFA Court accompaniment and transportation, as well as other court accompaniment and transportation;
• Assistance with accessing other social services such as housing, Social Security, DPW, Custody/Support office, etc.;
• Information and referrals;
• Possible financial assistance;
• Family Advocacy Center for victims and children to strengthen their relationships after domestic violence.
Relationship abuse, or domestic violence, happens when one person uses a pattern of controlling behaviors in an intimate relationship in order to gain power and control over their partner. This can include physical abuse, but often does not. It frequently involves emotional or psychological abuse used to manipulate the partner into behaving in the ways the abuser demands.
“If you realize you are making most of your decisions based on not making your partner angry or getting physically hurt by them, that is a big sign you are in an abusive relationship,” Pederson said.
Even through COVID-19, Safe Journey has continued to meet in-person with clients on a case by case basis. The members are focused on safety planning and harm reduction and have implemented all safety protocols during any interactions with clients, including the wearing of masks, screenings for symptoms and exposure, including temperature screening and frequent disinfection and cleaning of all used spaces.
“We want all clients to feel as safe as possible, so we have also developed secure and confidential online video counseling options,” Pederson said. “The online meetings will be as much like meeting in-person as possible.”
Clients will have the ability to see and speak with a trained counselor or advocate on an encrypted online platform chosen for its privacy features.
“We have seen nationally and locally a rise in domestic violence during the COVID-19,” Pederson said. “Abusers are using the restrictions of the pandemic to exert even more control over victims, causing them to be even more isolated and alone, and fearful there is no safe way to leave or reach out for help. Therefore, it is very important to us as an agency that people know and we continue to be open for business during the pandemic.”
All of Safe Journey’s services are available to victims, and have expanded the online services to provide more options for victims to receive help.
“Abuse can happen to anyone,” Pederson said. “Safe Journey provides services to victims of all genders. We are allies to the LGBTQ+ communities of Erie County. We also serve children, teens, adult children of family violence, the elderly and persons with disabilities.”
Call Safe Journey at 438-2675 for free, confidential, trained and caring support, information and referrals.