Bridges out of Poverty


I recently attended the Bridges out of Poverty training and it was a great learning experience. The exciting thing was that many of the tools they gave us, we have already implemented in our Residential Program. It is my goal as the Director of Residential Services to identify the unique barriers our clients may face and create a program that best meets the needs of the clients we work with. Domestic violence impacts all socio-economic groups and this includes individuals who come from generational poverty. In addition to the trauma a person experiences due to abuse, a person who is also living in poverty will face even more challenges.

In the training, we discussed the hidden rules of poverty, the differences between situational and generational poverty, and how vital it is as providers to recognize the reality our clients face. If a client does not have access to reliable transportation, healthcare, childcare, or a livable wage job, it is extremely overwhelming to not only leave an unsafe situation, but also then to be able to put all the pieces together in order to start again. Working with clients who come from generational poverty has given me and the Residential staff insight into the strength it takes to face all of these challenges, yet still rise above them. Building honest and caring relationships with our clients, taking the time to really listen to stories and experiences is the foundation for case-management and advocacy in our program.  We know that we cannot see things through our own lens, but through theirs, in order to support our clients fully. The Bridges out of Poverty training teaches so many skills on how to not only understand clients better but how to understand ourselves so that we may be better helpers.

Oppression in all its forms affects each one of us.  Classism and poverty frequently overlap domestic and sexual violence.  It is important to consider all the forms of oppression that may be affecting our clients and work to ensure we are providing intersectional services and intersectional advocacy.  If you’d like more information about our services our how our case management could help you, give us a call at 815.756.5228.

le consentement


France has recently proposed a new sexual assault law which includes a provision for the country’s first ever minimum age of consent.  Set to go into effect next year, President Macron and other leading French politicians hope to see the law establish the minimum age of sexual consent at 15 years old.  This would mean that any adult caught having sexual contact with a child younger than 15 would be charged with rape, regardless of if the courts were able to prove that violence or threats were involved.

A number of recent court cases involving adult men preying on young girls have prompted the recommended changes.  Adult men have been been acquitted of sexual crimes against children or convicted on lower charges due to the ambiguity in current laws.  Many sexual predators have had their relationships deemed consensual, even with children as young as 11 and 13.  When the courts can’t prove that physical violence or threats were involved, they cannot currently convict an adult of rape.  This planned legal change is obviously long overdue.

We know in cases of child sexual abuse that many abusers do not use threats of violence or physical violence to facilitate abuse.  Many abusers trick their victims.  Many abusers groom their victims into believing that they have a special relationship that allows that abuse.  Many abusers use bribes or gifts.  Some children may not know that what happened to them was abuse.  Some children may believe they are too blame for the abuse because they allowed it to happen or because they didn’t fight back.  Some children will crave that attention and affection, no matter how unhealthy.  None of these things make it a child’s fault when they have been abuse and none of these things make that relationship consensual.

It is important to educate children on their rights, especially their rights to safety and bodily autonomy.  It is also important to have a legal system that can adequately protect and provide justice for these children.  We applaud France in these initial steps and look forward to seeing new laws that protect and promote child safety in every country.

If you’ve been a victim of child sexual abuse or if your child has been affected, there is help and support available.  Call our 24-hour crisis hotline at 815.756.5228 for more information.

If you’d like information about our educational programming for children, contact our Prevention Department at 815.756.5228, x106.

If you’d like to know more about this story, consider listening to the NPR interview from December 18th’s Morning Edition (LINK) or reading the recent article on the BBC (LINK).

Own Your Mistakes


We all have reasons why we are the way we are:  bad habits we picked up from a roommate, a passive-aggressive attitude we learned from a parent; a coping mechanism we learned from a character on TV.  Maybe we were picked on in school.  Maybe someone said something hurtful to you that just keeps rolling around in your head.  Maybe you had a bad breakup.

There are all sorts of explanations for who we are.  There are reasons behind the good and the bad.  I always say “drive careful” and I can’t let my partner leave the house without saying “I love you” because that’s what my family did growing up.  I like that about me.  I also have a tendency to give up when things don’t come easily to me because I spent a lot of my formative years being afraid of being adequate.  That’s something I don’t like so much.

Speaking with a therapist is a great way to start processing some of these explanations, both the good and the bad.  It can help you come to a deeper understanding of yourself.  It can help you root out the bad and cultivate the good in you.  It is good to reflect on and understand what makes you tick.

The problem comes when we either don’t take the time to reflect on why we act the way we do or when we reflect but let that deeper understanding turn from explanations to excuses.  I may feel empathy for someone who has been hurt, but that doesn’t mean their pain gives them a pass to hurt someone else.  If I’ve experienced pain, I don’t get to lash out at you without consequences.

Too often in our society, when someone (especially a white, male someone) hurts someone, we immediately start to hear excuses for their behavior.  A recently published story about Harvey Weinstein is a great example (LINK).  While I empathize with those who have been bullied, with those who have been afraid they’ll never experience romantic love, with those who had a rough family life, plenty of people experience those issues without going on to exploit and abuse those over whom they have power.  There is a term we have for people who do those things and it is not “tragic victim,” it is “abuser.”

Do I hope we build a world without bullying, a world filled with love and hope and a world where every child is treasured and protected from their earliest childhood?  Absolutely.  But will I excuse the behavior of abusive individuals?  No.  The first step to overcoming abusive behavior is learning to take accountability for your own choices.  I hope Mr. Weinstein is able to do that.

If you’re concerned about your own behavior and choices, we have a Partner Abuse Intervention Program that can help you move from excuses to accountability.  Give us a call at 815.756.5054.

Love Yourself


Happy Valentine’s Day from your friends at Safe Passage! We understand this day evokes different emotions for everyone, and that’s okay! Maybe the holiday brings sadness or anger as you’re reminded of a past relationship. Maybe you feel left out or ashamed because you don’t have a partner to celebrate the day with. Maybe you’re perfectly happy eating candy hearts and chocolates next to your loved one. Whatever you’re feeling today, it is okay to feel that way, but this Valentine’s Day and every day, let’s practice loving and caring for ourselves.

Self-care is critical in living a happy and healthy life. It can help us physically, emotionally and mentally by boosting our confidence, attitudes and perspectives on things life throws at us. Self-care doesn’t need to take a lot of time, or money. It doesn’t have to be as extravagant as a full blown spa day; it can be as simple as reading a book or going for a walk.    

This Valentine’s Day, take care of yourself, remind yourself of your accomplishments, and don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back – after all, you deserve to be complimented! Give us a call, 815.756.5228, let’s talk about what you’re doing to care for yourself.

For more ideas on how to practice self-care, click here.

What is Legal Advocacy?


At Safe Passage we realize that the criminal justice system can be hard to understand and overwhelming for survivors of abuse. Our Legal Advocates can help make this process easier and a lot less scary. If you’re interested in learning more about our Legal Advocacy Program, read on. This description is meant to explain what we can do for a client as their legal advocate.

In the state of Illinois, we have three types of protective orders that a client may be interested in obtaining: an Order of Protection, a Civil No Contact Order, and a Stalking No Contact Order. Legal Advocates help a client understand what each order entails and guides that client when selecting an order. For example, when applying for an Order of Protection, a legal advocate explains each section to the client, helps the client complete paperwork and assist the client in applying for an emergency order which is in place 14 – 21 days. After that, the client will have a court date to extend the original Order of Protection and the Advocate can help the client request a two-year Plenary Order.

Legal Advocates can provide court support, too. These individuals can attend criminal or family court cases with clients. Often times, a client’s offender is required to attend the same court date as a client. We understand it may be triggering for a client to see their abuser, so a legal advocate can also attend court on a client’s behalf, meaning the client does not have to be in attendance.  

If needed, a legal advocate is able to attend meetings with a State Attorney or police departments alongside their client. When going to police departments, Legal Advocates cannot be in the room when an investigation or questioning is going on, but are happy to answer any questions before or after that session.

At Safe Passage, our advocates also provide medical support. When an individual arrives at a police station, Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital, or Valley West Hospital with domestic violence or sexual assault related injuries, a Safe Passage Advocate will also arrive. Our advocates are there to help these individuals understand the process of an Evidence Collection Kit, options for reporting the crime, and the rights the individual has as a victim. Safe Passage Advocates respond to medical calls 24/7.

Furthermore, Legal Advocates assist in training local officers, nurses, and other personnel on victim-centered approaches. Our legal advocates also act as Confidential Advisors for students of Kishwaukee Community College every Wednesday from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM. Their role as Confidential Advisors is to lay out options, listen, and support the individual. The Legal Advocates can explain reporting criminally to the police, or through Title IX with the school. If interested in learning more, please call 815.756.5228 or stop by their office located on the second floor of Kishwaukee College. 

At the end of the day, Legal Advocates are here to assist a client, guide them through the justice system, and support their decisions. If you need to get in contact with a Legal Advocate at Safe Passage, or have any questions, please give us a call: 815.756.5228. We are here to help. All services at Safe Passage are free and confidential.

Thank You, Erin!


Did you see our recent Letter to the Editor in the Daily Chronicle?  Read the full text of our letter below:

We all owe a great debt to a woman that many of us have never met.  You may not even know her name, but if you have a child who attends a public school, we certainly hope you have heard of her law.  Erin Merryn is a survivor of child sexual abuse and her tireless work led to the passage of Erin’s Law in Illinois five years ago.  Erin’s Law mandates that all students in public schools receive at least annual education on child sexual abuse and body safety.  The education is age-appropriate and progressive so students learn more and more each year about how to keep themselves safe.

We cannot sweep child sexual abuse under the rug and pretend that this issue does not exist.  You only have to turn on the news to be reminded of the dangers in our world.  From the recent trial of Dr. Nassar, the sports physician who abused hundreds of young gymnasts in his care to the cases we see in our own community, we know these dangers are present.  We want our children to be safe.  We want our families, schools, and communities to be safe places for them.  We want every child to grow up happy and healthy.  The way to achieve this, however, is not to ignore the risks, but to have open and frank discussions with our children about consent, body autonomy, and safety.

We have said it before and we will say it again: abuse thrives in silence.  Erin Merryn was afraid for many years.  She was afraid to speak out and afraid that she wouldn’t be believed.  Part of her deepest motivation to create and pass Erin’s Law was so other children would come forward and tell an adult about the abuse that they’ve endured, knowing that they would be heard, believed, and helped.  We at Safe Passage are proud to be a part of that effort.  We are proud to work with local schools to provide the mandated child abuse prevention education.  We are proud to work with survivors of child sexual abuse to help them process and heal.

If you lived through abuse as a child or if you have a child who has lived through abuse, please know that help is available.  No matter when the abuse occurred, our free and confidential services, including counseling and legal advocacy, are available to you 24/7.  Call our hotline at 815.756.5228 to talk to someone and take the first steps toward healing.

We are grateful to Erin Merryn for her advocacy and tireless work on behalf of all children.  We look forward to the day when Erin’s Law is passed in all 50 states and we are proud of Illinois for leading the nation in signing Erin’s Law five years ago.  We are working toward a world where no child is ever abused and we will continue to speak out until that world becomes a reality.

Mary Ellen Schaid

Executive Director

Safe Passage

2018 Nonprofit Organization Award


Last night the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual awards banquet.  For the first year ever, an award was given honoring an exceptional nonprofit organization operating in DeKalb County.  The honorees included many outstanding organizations including the DeKalb County Community Gardens, Adventure Works, the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, and the Egyptian Theatre.

Safe Passage was honored to be recognized alongside organizations doing such important work to provide critically needed services and services that make DeKalb such a wonderful place to live and work.  We were beyond honored to be recognized as the winner of the 2018 DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Nonprofit Organization Award!

It is an honor to serve survivors of domestic and sexual violence and it is an honor to partner with our community to end domestic and sexual violence.  So much of our work goes on outside the public eye, but this year, more than any other, we are thrilled to see our community and the country beginning to pay attention.  We must all stand together, united in saying that we will not tolerate violence and abuse.  We are proud to be recognized by our community and even more proud to be given the opportunity to support and stand beside survivors each and every day!

Thank you to our staff who work so hard and with so much passion; thank you to our board who give so much to guide and support this organization; thank you to our community who stand behind our critical work; and thank you to our clients who are the reason we work with such passion for the hope of a brighter, safer future!