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Nyack Sketch Log: The Other Pandemic, Domestic Violence

by Bill Batson

Advocates from the Center for Safety & Change have witnessed a tsunami of domestic violence following the public health earthquake that shook the world in March, 2020. Chief Development Officer Tracie McLee reached out to the Nyack Mask Makers, requesting 500 cloth face coverings to protect their growing number of clients from the viral contagion, the third largest request in Rockland County. Massive institutions like Montefiore Nyack Hospital and Rockland Psychiatric Center came in first and second. “Demand for our services increased by 50% in one month,” McLee alarmingly reports.

The real need may be even greater, considering the challenge of calling for help when you “shelter” in place with your abuser. As cynical as it may sound, we will #flattenthecurve for coronavirus long before we stop the global spread of domestic violence.

Nyack Sketch Log recently sat down with the Center’s Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth Santiago. Here’s the story of a domestic violence shelter that has not had an empty bed since 1979, which begs the question: What can we do to end the scourge of intimate partner violence?

A letter From Elizabeth Santiago

The pandemic and shelter-at-home mandates have added new layers, creating unimaginable environments at home. Hundreds of families – our loved ones, friends and neighbors – are living each hour of every day in fear and uncertainty.

Their lives depend on breaking through their current circumstances. Yet, they cannot do it alone and we pledged to them that they would never need to. Our help is needed now more than ever which is why I am calling on compassionate friends like you.

One month ago, the Center transitioned to remote and virtual operations, with the exception of the Emergency Residential Shelter. This ensured continuity of our essential work, yet resulted in more than $100,000 of unbudgeted expenses.

We have since worked with an unprecedented 50% more victims and survivors, illustrating just how essential our services are to our community, most especially during turbulent times like these.

Click here to learn more and donate.

If you or someone you know needs these services, their 24-hour hotline is (845) 634-3344.

What was it like before 1979 for victims of domestic violence?

Victims of domestic violence before 1979 did not have anywhere to go. Police would be called to homes by neighbors to intervene in a domestic violence occurrence. It was routine for police to tell the abuser to take a cold shower or take a walk around the block to calm down.

Danielle Watson, Center for Safety & Change’s Development Manager, received first shipment of masks from Nyack Mask Maker Co-founder, Bill Batson

Today, Center for Safety & Change trains many businesses, non profits, and schools, including Police Academy, on how to recognize domestic violence and on how to manage this safely for all parties involved.

What services do you currently provide to the victims of domestic violence and their families?

We have an emergency residential shelter that has 15 beds. On average, this shelter provides safe nights to about 100 victims of domestic violence on a yearly basis. In addition, we had to turn away close to 400 victims because there was no vacancy.

When this happens, we work with other sister agencies in other areas to provide housing options, as well as safety planning tactics to keep families safe. We help them think of options on staying with a family member, or friend, etc. Although the shelter is the heart of our agency, it only accounts for about 20% of the work that we do.

The bulk of the work is through our non-residential services. Center for Safety & Change’s Domestic Violence Non-Residential Services was developed and implemented specifically for domestic violence victims who do not require or desire residential placement.

Non-Residential services, include, but are not limited a 24/7 crisis hotline; individual and group counseling; support and empowerment groups; advocacy and accompaniment; safety planning; legal services and court assistance; information and referral services; community outreach and education; children’s services and school advocacy; education programs for professionals, for teens, and for others; transportation and translation services, as needed; and comprehensive crime victim services, including assisting with applications to the New York State Office of Victim Services.

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How has your organization grown over the years?

The Center has grown in so many ways. Our children and youth department has literally more than tripled in size, starting out with a Director, Jean Roemer, who implemented Creative Arts Therapy. Before the program, we were seeing at maximum 100 children and youth on an annual basis. We see close to 500 children and youth, with staff of six employees–and there is a current waitlist of about 40 children.

We added our Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Program in 1984, but added on our partnerships with Nyack Hospital (now Montefiore Nyack) in 2003 and Good Samaritan Hospital in 2005. We have specific rooms in each Emergency Department dedicated in supporting victims of rape and sexual assault by our specially trained medical examiners.

The annual Fashion Sale Preview is held at the Hudson House of Nyack, who donate the food, service and restaurant every year ensuring that the Center for Safety & Change can maximize every fundraising opportunity

Our legal department consisted of two lawyers about three years ago and has literally quadrupled in size since 2016. The legal department has six attorneys, including matrimonial, family, immigration and anti human trafficking lawyers, as well as four legal advocates and two paralegals. The legal department provides legal advice, assistance, and court accompaniment for victims of violence and abuse. They help them fill out orders of protection, explain what their rights are, and provide them with options.

What are some of the ways that women and children find out about your services?

We host trainings for youth in all of the high schools, including all private schools. We host trainings for corporations and local businesses on a variety of issues such as sexual harassment, domestic violence in the workplace, etc. We host many outreach events and attend many events in the community. In addition, we have 11 locations in the county. We recognize that there is a stigma that comes along with our home office on 9 Johnsons Lane in New City. A victim may feel intimidated or may not want someone to see them in that area. We’ve strategically placed satellite offices throughout the county, including Haverstraw, Nyack, and Spring Valley to help preserve anonymity, confidentially, and geographically availability.

Inside the Center for Safety & Change’s Emergency Shelter, which, for the protection of its residents, is located at an undisclosed location

Would you say that incidents of domestic violence are increasing or decreasing?

This is tough. Although the number of victims we help annually has remained steady, the number of times we help victims achieve safety and seek services has increased. Last year alone, we helped close to 2,000 victims of gender-based violence, close to 30,000 times.

I understand that 71% of pets in homes where domestic violence occurs are harmed or killed by their intimate partner. What does a victim do with their pet(s) when escaping violence and abuse?

We know our pets are family. In fact, the bond is so strong that 48% of domestic violence victims delayed leaving their intimate partner out of concern for their pets’ safety.

In partnership with the Hudson Valley Humane Society, Center for Safety & Change established the Paws for Safety program in 2011. This unique program temporarily places animal victims of domestic violence in a loving and confidential location while their owners make safe living arrangements and escape the abuse. Paws for Safety provides victims with the security of knowing their pets are safe and handled with care until they can be reunited. If you are in a relationship where you and/or your pets are being abused, harmed, and/or threatened, please call the Center’s 24-Hour Hotline 845-634-3344. No one deserves to live in fear of violence, abuse, and trauma.

 40 Years of Advancing Safety & Change

The doors to their Emergency Shelter opened officially on October 5, 1979 and a rotary phone was turned on. The first day, 11 beds were filled out of 15. The second day, the house was filled to capacity and the phones have not stopped ringing.

Today, their shelter remains a safe haven for thousands of children and families.

Your monthly donation ensures that the Center remains strong serving thousands of children and families escaping violence and abuse. And monthly donors will receive special benefits if the commitment is for five years of more.

You are helping to give the gift of safety and comfort to victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and all crimes like Maritza and her three children.

Maritza and her family received support from the Center through counseling, support group, and safety planning to cope with trauma from years of experiencing emotional, verbal, physical, and financial abuse.

Make your donation online here.

For more information, please call Tracie McLee at 845-634-3391 or email

What impact has the #MeToo movement had on your work?

We believe the #MeToo movement has created a safe space to allow victims to come forward and tell their story and seek services.

How does the current climate towards immigrants impact your work?

A) Immigrant survivors are afraid to report crimes and seek the protection of the courts, and are more vulnerable to domestic violence and other crimes as a result. The reason for this fear is that immigration enforcement priorities no longer exist–during the Obama administration, people with more serious criminal histories were prioritized for removal and people who were simply out of status were not. ICE presence in courthouses has increased by 1700% and victims have been swept up in court raids.

Also, many victims want to bring their abusers to court to get an order of protection but do not want them deported. Many are afraid for fear of impact on the father of their children. For example, one of our domestic violence clients was recently arrested at the Ramapo Justice Court and detained –ICE knew she was the victim and still arrested her.

Elizabeth Santiago, Chief Executive Officer, Center for Safety & Change

B) Immigrant survivors are afraid to serve as witnesses for the same reasons above. We like to use voluntary witnesses in our trials and are being hampered in calling undocumented witnesses–we cannot give them the assurance we once did.

C. Immigrant survivors are more afraid to file for immigration status. Under former policies, if humanitarian applications were denied, the applicant simply reverted to being undocumented. Now, if a survivor’s application gets denied, they will be put into removal proceedings. Also, scrutiny of applications has become heightened and negative discretion is exercised far more harshly. For clients with children especially, they put a lot on the line. USCIS statistics reflect significant declines in filings.

I understand that you do outreach in Middle Schools. What is your message to young people?

We teach them what healthy relationships look like, and define what consent is. It is no longer “no means no” but “yes means yes.”

Playroom inside the Center for Safety & Change’s Emergency Shelter

What should a person do if they know of a friend or family member who is being abused?

They should call our 24-Hour Hotline at 845-634-3344. We can answer any questions or address any concerns.

What are some of the ways that the public can help?

First, they can sign up to volunteer. There are many jobs and tasks that need to be done. Last year, our volunteers donated close to 12,000 hours of services, a cost savings of about $270,000. We encourage everyone to start changing social norms. Let’s begin to create a safer space for victims to continue to come forward by believing them. The Center starts by believing victims.

Finally, donate. From making a one time donation to becoming a monthly donor, your donation will continue to sustain our programs and services for generations to come. We also encourage friends of our agency to attend community and fundraising events.

This week’s sketch is by Juliet Craig, Craig, a student at Tappan Zee High School, was the 2014 winner of the Center for Safety & Change Student Art Competition. I saw her drawing displayed, along with other winners, in a hallway at the Center’s offices. Juliet perfectly captured the despondency one would imagine a victim of domestic violence must feel. If my column about the Center was to have an illustration, this was it.

Bill Batson is an artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “The Other Pandemic Domestic Violence” © 2020 Bill Batson. To see more, visit 


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