In the North Memorial Health Care system, health and help can be found in many ways. One of those ways is through a domestic abuse advocacy program called SafeJourney. The program provides medical professionals as well as volunteer advocates to assist victims of domestic violence.
“We have over 100 volunteers who go through training...to be a caring person to hear the victim’s story and provide emotional support,” says manager Suzy Whelan.
Safe Journey operates out of Maple Grove Hospital and North Memorial Hospital and Clinics and is available to all, free of charge.
Piloted in 1994 in the emergency room at North Memorial, the program helped 51 people that first year. Since then, SafeJourney has seen more than 1,400 victims of domestic violence per year, from bedside visits to individual appointments.
“That number feels so big and so negative … but I see it as more people are getting the help they need and are finally breaking that silence,” Whelan says.
To help both female and male victims, the goal is to help plan and execute whatever steps the client is willing to take in their situation. SafeJourney also provides referrals to shelters, legal aid, police reports and resources for children who are involved.
“So many victims are afraid to talk about it because they’re worried they won’t be believed," Whelan says.
The program is unique in the support it provides after an incident of domestic abuse. Safe Journey follows up with every victim visited by an advocate in the hospital system, and support groups are scheduled weekly.
Volunteer advocates train in a roughly 16-hour program, learning about the dynamics of domestic abuse. Whelan says the main focus is on learning why it can be so difficult to get out and how to make a safety plan for each victim.
About 50 percent of the volunteer staff has had personal experience with domestic abuse, and Whelan, the only full time employee of the program, was also a victim. The other half has likely had it affect them in other ways.
Carolyn Cochrane got involved with SafeJourney after watching her sister in an emotionally abusive marriage.
“The answer isn’t always just telling someone to leave,” Cochrane says. “It’s hard to watch anyone you care about be involved in a situation like this.”
Whelan shares Cochrane’s feelings on why SafeJourney is so important.
“At its simplest form, advocacy is one human being trying to connect to another who’s hurting,” Whelan says. “If we can make that connection without judgment, we might be the very first person [to hear the story]. We hold that in reverence… we’re there for anyone in need.