by Coni Huntsman Stogner, Director of Transitional Services
In the 15 years I’ve worked at SafePlace, I’ve often been asked how I can work here, and “Isn’t it depressing to hear about abuse all the time?” The interesting thing is that SafePlace is far from depressing. The families that come here are all looking to make their lives better and what could be more inspirational? In some cases, the women (and men) who seek us out have experienced abuse and poverty their whole lives. It is easy to think that if abuse is all someone knows and has lived, what in the world would make them think things could be different? But the amazing part is they do. Each survivor that walks through our door is taking a huge leap of faith that life can be different, better, and free of violence.
Aside from “inspirational”, another word that describes working at SafePlace more accurately than depressing is “real”. The truth of the matter is that sexual and domestic violence happen in our community and around the world every day. When you walk into a bank, school or grocery story, chances are pretty good you come into contact with families that are experiencing abuse. For most people, most places, it’s kept quiet. People don’t talk about it. The majority of the time people don’t even talk about it with their closest friends or relatives. There is a false sense that if no one talks about it, then it’s not happening. I feel lucky, and OK call me dorky, also honored, to work at a place where people trust us with the stories of their lives. The only depressing part is that abuse victims often don’t feel safe telling that same story to the people who are closest to them in their everyday lives for fear that they might be judged, criticized or not believed. Here at SafePlace, where it is talked about openly and honestly, it’s refreshing because it is real. There is no mask. No need to pretend that everything is fine.
Lastly, the piece that makes working here far from depressing is the children. For every woman who is finding the courage to make really hard changes in her own life, there are often children who are learning a crucial life lesson from her actions – that violence is not OK. Over the years I’ve tried to tell to my three young children what I do at SafePlace, and at times it’s been challenging to determine the right amount of information to give them. Recently I overheard my oldest son, who is 8, trying to explain to his friend what I do for a living. Although I know I’ve never used these words, here is what he gleaned. He said, “My mom works for a place that tries to help families be more in love.” Nothing depressing about that.