Jewish Family Service of San Diego Responds to Domestic Violence with Resources, Advocacy, and Awareness

By Jessica Nare

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an annual opportunity to shine a light on the often hidden issue that affects at least one in four women and one in nine men in their lifetimes. In previous years, October has prompted mainstream news outlets to finally broach this difficult and underreported topic. This year, newspapers, television networks, and social media were buzzing with discussion before the month began. The Ray Rice footage—and the moving #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft social media disclosures that resulted—were public reminders that domestic abuse remains prevalent in our society.

At JFS, we know domestic violence exists in this city often called “paradise.” San Diego County has the second highest rate of calls to law enforcement to report domestic violence and intimate partner violence of all counties in California. Recent research shows arguments and domestic abuse were the top two causes of homicide in San Diego County in 2013, with 83 percent of female homicide victims killed by a spouse, intimate partner, or family member. And experts have found that the incidence of domestic violence in the Jewish community mirrors that of the community at large. (In fact, Orthodox Jewish women tend to stay in abusive relationships five to seven years longer than other women.) Our value of shalom bayit—peace in the home—makes confronting domestic abuse in the Jewish community uncomfortable—but our dedication to living this value is exactly why we must act, together.

Project SARAH (Stop Abusive Relationships At Home) at JFS tackles domestic violence on several fronts. Project SARAH provides counseling, case management, and advocacy services to individuals and families impacted by all forms of domestic abuse. Our staff works to keep survivors safe, help them heal, and empower them to break the cycle of violence in their families.

Reaching out to women experiencing abuse is inherently difficult, but our staff has been successful with confidential—and unconventional—forms of outreach. For example, Project SARAH posters hang inside the doors of women’s bathroom stalls across the county. The posters offer information on the warning signs of abuse and business cards marked “Sarah’s Alterations.” Women experiencing violence can tuck these cards in their pockets or purses without fear that their partners will discover that they’re seeking help.

Each October, Project SARAH hosts a public awareness event designed to expand and enhance the discussion on domestic violence in San Diego. This year, on Wednesday, October 22, Project SARAH will welcome attorney and award-winning activist Joshua Safran to share the story of his mother’s harrowing experience with domestic abuse chronicled in his best-selling memoir, FREE SPIRIT: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid. Safran will discuss how he overcame adversity, reconnected to his Jewish heritage, became a lawyer, and went from survivor to advocate.

In FREE SPIRIT, Safran wrote:

“Domestic violence is an unstable injustice. Once it is unleashed, you never know what damage it will cause. Some batterers abuse their families for years and get away with it, leaving the victims to pass it on to the next generation in an ongoing cycle of violence…Only in writing this book did I discover that I [became a domestic violence advocate]…to prove to my ten-year old self that I finally had the strength and the courage to protect someone from abuse.”

By providing supportive services, advocating on behalf of survivors, and raising awareness of this important issue in our community, JFS strives to offer the same compassion, healing, and hope to everyone who comes to us in search of a better life.


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