York County’s violence against women rate is one of the highest in South Carolina – a state consistently ranked as one of the top 10 worst for domestic violence.
The families behind those statistics are the reason an organization like Safe Passage is so important, said Jada Charley, the women’s shelter’s new executive director since April.
“Domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse impact all segments of our community,” said Charley, 33. “Any member of our community may find themselves in need of the services provided by Safe Passage.”
Like many local nonprofit groups, Safe Passage’s services are facing continued financial strain because of cuts to state and federal grants that help keep shelters, counseling services and food pantries open.
“Safe Passage is currently in one of the most difficult financial situations I believe the organization has ever faced,” Charley said.
About the time Charley started at Safe Passage, funding was lost for York County’s SANE – sexual assault nurse examiner – program, which is overseen by the York County Sheriff’s Office and housed at the women’s shelter in Rock Hill.
The examination of sexual abuse and assault victims is now performed at Piedmont Medical Center.
The program was crucial, Charley said, to assist in collecting medical evidence that can lead to the arrest and prosecution of criminals who commit sexual assault.
Safe Passage still focuses on helping sexual assault victims heal from trauma without the SANE program, she said, and the organization tries to educate the community about issues related to domestic violence, sexual trauma and child abuse.
“This helps the victims become strong enough to assist in the prosecution, if necessary,” Charley said, “and creates a healthier community overall by improving the physical and mental well-being of victims of trauma.”
Safe Passage employs 11 full-time and five part-time staff members. It currently has about 10 active volunteers.
The shelter and other Safe Passage services have had more clients so far in 2013 than by this time last year, she said.
Charley recently spoke with The Herald about her new job and the role of Safe Passage in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
What inspired you to start working with Safe Passage and in an earlier role as a language services attorney?
Charley: I have always been interested in public service and being an advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. I believe that we are responsible for and accountable to all members of our society, and we should do what we can to help where we can. Working with victims is an offshoot of those beliefs. Being bilingual and passionate about civil rights led me to work with immigrants.
Working with victims of domestic abuse, child abuse and sexual trauma can be highly emotional. What do you do to keep from burning out?
Charley: I garden and cook. Having children also forces me to focus on things outside of work and take vacations.
What misconceptions do you think the public might have about Safe Passage or people living in our community who might need its services?
Charley: The public may believe that domestic violence, sexual trauma and child abuse are confined to certain subsets of our community, perhaps the poor or the uneducated. Other people who need our services will not seek us out because of the fear of the stigma or community reaction. There is a reason our policies provide services regardless of income – because these situations happen to people of all income levels and education levels.
Is there a next step local governments or community members should take to help support Safe Passage and the services it provides?
Charley: Individuals can send donations or contact local officials to request that they help pay for Safe Passage’s services in their budgets. Churches and organizations are also encouraged to get involved by hosting gift card drives or fundraisers.
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068