The Way I See It: Domestic Violence and the Role of SafeNet

Categories:  News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 at 7:10 AM

In light of recent circumstances regarding allegations against several NFL players, domestic violence is continuing to make headlines. An important point to make here is that while tragic events like these often end up being what forces the issues to light, domestic violence does not discriminate and isn’t simply a “football” or a “guy” thing – it can happen to anyone regardless of race, gender, age, or income. 

And in short, the statistics are staggering. 

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, every year, one out of three women who are victims of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner. 

Let that sink in for a moment. And while you’re doing that, know that one in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. 

But there’s more: women experience more than 4 million physical assaults and men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults. 

To someone who has never been exposed to or experienced such violence, it may be difficult to understand or comprehend, especially because this is not just physical. Domestic abuse covers emotional, mental, verbal, sexual, spiritual, and financial behaviors as well. Abusive behavior is used to exert control within a relationship. 

And let me reiterate: It doesn’t discriminate.

Locally, there are several organizations, programs, and initiatives designed to support and help victims of abuse. One of the leaders in our community is SafeNet. For those unfamiliar, SafeNet is Erie’s only accredited domestic violence agency whose mission is to end domestic violence through various programs, training and educational initiatives. 

Sue Kuligowski, doctoral candidate and medical director at SafeNet, tells me, “SafeNet has specially trained counselor/advocates that understand the complexity of domestic violence. We personally address every client’s needs in a specialized manner, as we understand everyone’s situation is different, often assisting in safety planning, counseling, legal services, housing, education, and referrals.”

This past year alone, 1,376 adults and 290 children were recipients of SafeNet’s programs. In addition, SafeNet sheltered 176 adults and 176 children.

And all of their services are free and confidential. 

“The confidentiality privilege we uphold is to ensure client protection to our best ability. Domestic violence is an epidemic that the community often decides to ignore, however, the impact is not just with the victim.”

This year is also SafeNet’s 40th anniversary celebration. “SafeNet was one of the first domestic violence shelters in the nation and originated from a group of non-denomination church women seeing a need in the community to help victims of DV. The agency has grown immensely since then with progressive programs, departments, and a shelter campus.”

I came to know Sue during my short tenure at the organization. While I didn’t have a direct hand in working with the clients (my career path had me in fundraising at that point), during my time there, there was one question that was asked again and again from donors and individuals in the community – those who didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the situation. 

The question? “Why do they stay?”

One of the counselors there at the time, offered a good analogy that I still use today:  

“If you place a frog in boiling water, it will jump right back out. But if you put the frog in cold water and heat it gradually, the frog will not become aware of the threat as its survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden change –and the frog instead will adapt and stay in the water until it dies.”

This is what happens in an abusive relationship. Much like the frog, our survival instincts are geared towards abrupt change – and it is then that we tend to react immediately and decisively. However, most relationships never start out this way. In fact, quite the opposite happens. An abuser can enter a relationship, coming off as charming and doting, but gradually – as the water temperature rises – abuse can set in, with the victim acclimating to the changing conditions instead of immediately responding. Sadly, this is what happens with most victims – they adapt. 

To someone on the outside, the most important thing here is to be informed. Sue explains, “Victims won’t always talk about the abuse. Sometimes there are clues of domestic violence, and it’s important to recognize the signs, whether they be physical and/or emotional – and if you suspect someone you know may be a victim, it’s important to realize that he/she may minimize, deny, or justify the abuse.” 

Some victims may turn down all options you provide to them – and most importantly, while you believe it’s best for that person to leave their abuser, it might be the most dangerous time for them. The Julien Center, a resource for victims of domestic violence, indicates that the most dangerous time for a victim is after he/she ends the relationship. It is very important for them when to decide to leave a relationship because they are in the best position to assess the potential danger.

Domestic violence is an epidemic that the community often decides to ignore, however, the impact is not just with the victim – it is an invisible crime and one that needs more attention. It is up to us to recognize the signs, as often times the victim does not – until it’s too late. Remember, domestic violence knows no boundaries. 

You can contact SafeNet’s hotline 24/7 by calling 454.8161. You can also visit their website to find out more information about the programs and services they offer. 

Love? Hate? Agree? Disagree? I want to hear from you. Email me at, and follow me on Twitter @rStyn.

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