Standing With LGBTQ+ Survivors

Intimate partner violence, like other forms of abuse­, does not discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

Intimate partner violence, like other forms of abuse­, does not discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

In honor of PRIDE, we’re hoping to bring attention to how intimate partner violence affects the LGBTQ+ community. We also want to remind our fellow New Yorkers that Sanctuary’s services are free and available to ALL individuals regardless of race, color, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, national origin, citizenship status, or marital status. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help.

Keep reading to learn more about safety planning and download our guide by clicking here.

Sanctuary at NYC Pride 2019

Intimate Partner Violence in the LGBTQ+ Community

Abuse occurs in LGBTQ+ relationships at similar or even higher rates than in the general population. According to a 2010 CDC survey, the lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV) is significantly higher for bisexual women (61%) compared to that of lesbian (43%) and heterosexual women (35%).[1] Lesbian women and gay men also reported experiencing levels of sexual and intimate partner abuse similar to or higher than those of their straight counterparts.

Although data on IPV in the transgender community is much more limited, studies suggest that 31 to 50 percent of transgender people suffer from intimate partner abuse at some point in their lives, compared to 28 to 33 percent in the general population.[2] One study found the prevalence of IPV experienced by trans women in the past year to be twice as high as that of trans men (16% vs. 8%), a finding consistent with the higher prevalence of intimate partner abuse among women in general.[3]

While it is often assumed that abusers are either the male or more masculine-presenting partner in a relationship, it is important to note that violence can be perpetrated by any individual regardless of their physical or personal attributes.[4]In the CDC study, for example, bisexual and heterosexual survivors, of various genders, overwhelmingly reported having only perpetrators of a different gender.

At Sanctuary for Families, we recognize that LGBTQ+ individuals’ experiences of abuse are too often ignored or dismissed. We also know that members of this community face unique barriers to seeking help because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression. These may include the risk of rejection and isolation from family and friends; fear of being outed by their partner in retaliation; misconceptions about abuse in same-sex relationships; homelessness and trauma from police brutality; lack of confidence in service providers due to potential homophobia; limited availability of or awareness about LGBTQ-specific or LGBTQ-friendly services; among others. Trans people, in particular, have been impacted by COVID-19, including increased unemployment and homelessness, while also struggling to find adequate medical care and support.

Every day, we at Sanctuary strive to create a welcoming environment that fosters compassion and mutual respect where all survivors can find safety and stability as they rebuild their lives in the aftermath of abuse. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please do not hesitate to reach out.


Safety Planning: A Guide for Survivors, by Survivors

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The following Safety Planning Guide was created by members of Sanctuary’s Survivor Leadership program and has been reviewed by multiple clinicians. The guide draws from survivors’ and clinicians’ expertise, as well as from safety planning models from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Sanctuary for Families, and Love is Respect.


Download this guide with safety tips from survivors.

What Is a Safety Plan?

A safety plan is a set of steps you can take to reduce the risk of harm in unsafe situations with an abuser or family member. With the changes in our environments due to coronavirus, we advise survivors of gender-based violence to consider the following safety tips created by survivors.  Sanctuary for Families’ team of Survivor Leaders put this list together in hopes of providing digital tools for safety during this time.

Why Should I Create a Safety Plan?

It can be hard to think and react in a time of emergency or high stress, especially with the added stress and uncertainty of coronavirus, so it is helpful to create a plan in advance. It is also important to update your safety plan often, as circumstances can change.  Abusers often try to have power and control over a survivor’s life, and a safety plan is one way a survivor can have power and control over their own situation, as much as they can.  Having a plan can empower you to make the safest decisions you can for your situation.

You are the Expert

You know your situation better than anyone, so please individualize your safety plan to what feels safest for you.  If something does not feel safe, trust your instincts.  For example, it may not be safe to complete a safety plan in writing, but you can still review one in your head and memorize it as best you can.  It can also be helpful to go over your safety plan with a trusted friend or relative.

Digital Safety

Please try to use a safer computer or phone that someone abusive does not have direct or remote (hacking) access to.  Digital stalking is one way for abusers to try to exert power and control. Email and Instant/Text Messaging (IM) are not safe or confidential ways to talk to someone about the danger or abuse in your life. If possible, please call instead. If you use email or texting, please use a safer computer or phone and an account your abuser does not know about.

For more information on computers, the internet, and digital safety, click here.

Increased risk of harm due to COVID-19

As many of us are practicing social distancing and quarantine, there are many additional risks for survivors and their safety, such as:

  • Isolation: Abusers can use this time to further isolate survivors from their loved ones. They may also use this as a time to further restrict a survivor’s movement in person, controlling where they go and when. They might also control a survivor’s interactions online, limiting their access to the outside world.
  • Restricting Access to Information: Abusers may also restrict access to the news and other outlets, making themselves the source of all information.
  • Increased Abuse: The abuse may worsen during this time as survivors may be spending more time in contact with their abusers. Survivors may also experience new or different types of abuse during this time.
  • In-Person and Digital Stalking: Abusers might try to exert their power by trying to monitor, control and stalk survivors in person and digitally.
  • Financial Abuse: Many individuals are experiencing financial burdens due to being unable to work, and abusers may further financially exploit survivors during this time.
  • Parenting: Survivors who co-parent their children with their abusers may be facing unique challenges during these times, such as barriers to visitation and/or increased exposure to the abuser due to lack of accessible childcare.  For example, in order for a survivor to work, he/she/they may need to utilize their abuser for childcare.


1. Buddy System Code Word

Identify at least two people that you can contact with a “code word” to let them know if you are in trouble. Plan in advance what they should do if you send them the code word.

2. “Safest Room”

If there is an argument, identify an area of the home you can move to where there are no weapons and there are ways for you to leave the house, apartment, or building, such as a door or window to exit the house/apartment. For some survivors, especially those quarantined at home with an abuser during coronavirus, no room may feel safe, so we call it the “safest rooms”. If you can at least identify the lowest risk areas, you may be able to reduce harm.

3. Planning with Children

  • Code Words: If you have children, decide how to communicate urgency. For example, when one survivor’s daughter was little, the survivor would open her arms and the daughter knew that meant to come running to her for safety.  Some survivors also create a “code word” with their children that means they should go to the “safest room” in the home that you have already decided upon.
  • Emergency Numbers: If for some reason you are not able to make emergency calls and you have children, give them the safety number/s, if they are old enough. Please see the Resources section listed below for some emergency phone numbers.

4. Notifying the Police Before an Emergency

Ahead of time, you can notify your local police station of your concerns. Let them know the history and your concern of being in isolation due to coronavirus. It may be useful to speak with the Domestic Violence officer.

5. Exit Plan

In case you have to flee, create an exit plan ahead of time with someone who could support this need. Is there a trusted friend/relative who you can stay with if needed?

6. Supplies, Food & Medication

Check your supplies and food. If you need food and do not have the money, check your local pantry, temple/church/mosque/etc., or other community organizations. Remember to keep your medication in the safest, easily accessible location in case of emergency.

7. Emergency Bag

Pack an emergency bag with an extra set of keys, clothes for you and your children, a pay-as-you-go cell phone, medications, copies of important documents, etc.

8. Important Documents

Make copies or take pictures of your important documents for yourself and send them to a trusted friend or relative. Important documents may include IDs, social security cards, immigration documents, birth certificates, health insurance information, and Orders of Protection.  As mentioned earlier, be mindful of sending anything via phone or computer.  Please use whatever method is safest for you.

9. Seeking Social Support

With social distancing and quarantining, survivors can feel even more isolated, and abusers may use further isolation as a power and control tactic. Identify trusted friends, relatives or even online support groups where you can still connect virtually.  If you have a friend who may be experiencing abuse, be sure to reach out to them even more during this time.

10. Creating a “Peaceful Space”

Many survivors are feeling forced to spend more time with an abuser during the coronavirus outbreak because they may feel unsafe leaving the home, as well as unsafe staying in the home. If you cannot leave your home, try to create a “peaceful space” for yourself in your home (if that is safe for you). You can draw pictures of a more peaceful place and put them on a wall to help you take an emotional break to visualize a more peaceful place.  This is also an activity you can do with your children.  You can also write positive affirmations and put them up on the wall to remind yourself of your worth.

11. Holding onto Your Plan

Consider keeping a list of your safety plan in your phone or wherever might be safe for you. Please consider what is safest for you. If you choose to write your plan somewhere, consider listing only key words that help you remember the plan, but that would not be clear to your abuser. If this is not safe, try to memorize your plan, focusing on memorizing at least one key emergency number on your list of resources.


All of the following resources are accessible, despite the coronavirus outbreak.

  • 9-1-1: In case of an emergency at any time, please call 911.
  • Emergency SOS on iPhone: Here is a link to a shortcut to using Emergency SOS to quickly and easily call for help and alert your emergency contacts if you have an iPhone: How to Use Emergency SOS on your iPhone
  • Emergency Location Sharing on Androids and iPhones: Here is a link for how to set up emergency location sharing on your phone, in case you want to share your location with a trusted friend or relative in case of emergency: How to Use Emergency Location Sharing
  • Sanctuary for Families Hotline: Sanctuary for Families’ Hotline is still accessible from Monday-Friday from 9 AM- 5 PM. Please call us at 212-349-6009
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: The National Domestic Violence Hotline is still accessible 24/7. Please call them at 1-800-799-7233
  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: The National Human Trafficking Hotline is still accessible 24/7. Please call them at 1-888-373-7888 or text them at 233-733
  • Suicide Hotline: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is still accessible 24/7. Please call them at 1-800-273-8255

By: Monica Harris, Survivor Leader & Shobana Powell, LCSW, Director of Survivor Leadership Institute.

Reviewed by: Flore Baptiste, Carmen Guzman Lombert, Survivor Leader, Cristian Eduardo, Survivor Leader, and Hazell Imbert, LMHC, Counselor in Residential Services.

[1] Walters, M.L, J. Chen, and M.J. Breiding. “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation.” Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013.

[2] Brown, Taylor N.T., and Jody L. Herman. “Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Abuse among LGBT People.” Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, 2015.

[3] Clements, K., M. Katz, and R. Marx. “The Transgender Community Health Project.” San Francisco, CA: University of California San Francisco, 1999.

[4] Human Rights Campaign. “Common Myths about LGBTQ Domestic Violence,” October 18, 2017.

Recognizing Respond Crisis Translation: A Pillars of Change Honoree

For their phenomenal partnership with Sanctuary providing hundreds of hours of translation services.

Respond Crisis Translation has been an integral part of Sanctuary for Families over the past two years. A member of the Respond Crisis Translation team contacted Sanctuary’s Volunteer Program team proposing a partnership to ensure language access for linguistically-diverse clients. From the beginning, it was clear that our organizations had common goals and deep alignment. Respond Crisis Translation chose Sanctuary for Families as their first partner to pilot their hope of survivors having pro bono access to interpreters and translators. They have worked with Sanctuary in myriad ways such as translating legal evidence for asylum-seeking domestic violence survivors and oral interpreting in psychological and emotional support sessions.

Respond Crisis Translation is a collective of around 2,000 language activists providing support in over 100 languages. There are many translators in their network who are deeply committed to gender justice and are particularly passionate about supporting victims and survivors of gender-based violence who seek safety, freedom, and asylum. The Respond Crisis Translation team notes, “We wanted to work with SFF because they are leading on the frontlines of supporting survivors across New York. For survivors who are also linguistic minorities, we know that Anglocentrism, language violence, and language exclusionism create yet another layer of complexity and often make access to resources and justice close to impossible.” Respond Crisis Translation’s understanding of this complexity has been integral for many of our clients gaining justice and freedom from the violence and barriers they experience.

During the pandemic, Respond Crisis Translation has been essential in helping Sanctuary share our Safety Planning Guide far and wide. Volunteers translated the plan into seven languages so that it could be distributed widely across New York City and beyond. This guide was imperative for victims of domestic violence currently living with their abusers during the stay-at-home order and provided steps to take in case of an emergency. It was critical to have this translated into numerous languages in order to reach a wide breadth of victims and survivors.

When thinking about the longstanding partnership, Jessica Francois, Manager of Volunteer Relations says, “The last thing we want a client to worry about is telling their story in a language that isn’t the most comfortable for them. Respond has been able to deliver quality translations frequently used in court, providing an essential gateway to getting our clients the safety they need. Offering translation allows for survivors to feel supported, heard, and cared for. Respond Crisis Translation are our team members in this effort.”

More importantly, Respond Crisis Translation now provides its services to many organizations throughout the United States. They understand and provide a service of language access to those who are the most in need. “There is a huge language access crisis in this country: all too often, refugees and those dealing with trauma who don’t speak English lack access to critical information because it has simply not been made available in the languages they speak. At the same time, these folks are often forced to navigate immigration, legal, medical, and other governmental systems that are not accommodating to non-English speakers. All too often, when these systems DO provide interpretation, the quality is subpar and the interpreters are not trauma-informed or versed in the language of gender and LGBTQ+ justice. This creates additional layers of trauma and re-victimization. At Respond Crisis Translation, our interpreters are passionate about justice for survivors and committed to providing trauma-informed, high-quality interpreting that not only creates basic access but also creates safety and healing. We are proud to be able to fill in this critical need for SFF clients”, says the Respond team.

“Language access, freedom of mobility, and physical and emotional safety are all basic human rights. Language justice is a feminist issue, is a queer issue, and is a basic human rights issue. We are grateful for the opportunity to work at these intersections in collaboration with Sanctuary for Families.”

We, too, are grateful to our team members at Respond Crisis Translations. We thank them for their amazing commitment to Sanctuary’s staff and clients, and their impact reaches well beyond what can be captured in words.

To learn more about Respond Crisis Translation and their work, please join us on June 17th from 6:30pm -7:00pm at our virtual Pillars of Change

Additionally, for those who are in need of support, please feel free to get in touch with them via their website

Recognizing Cynthia Polk-Allen: A Pillars of Change Honoree

For her incredible commitment teaching and tutoring within Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program.

Cynthia Polk-Allen has been an avid supporter of Sanctuary for Families since 2019. After retiring from the Department of Education, she began her commitment to Sanctuary through gift wrapping and Holiday Program volunteering, but her interest to do more quickly grew. Reflecting on the start of her work here, Cynthia states “I walked through the doors of the building to tutor my first group of Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) students at 11:00 in the morning. I fell in love and have been a part of the SFF EEP family since then.”

Having gone through her own journey as a survivor, she reflects that “this was destined to be a passion when I read the website. When I went to my January 23rd meeting, it was clearly explained the cycles of abuse, what our clients were experiencing. It was also clearly and succinctly explained what SFF was doing to help people across all backgrounds work through this trauma and come out on the other side.”

Cynthia has continued to be a fierce supporter of Sanctuary – donating her time and resources in support of staff and clients. Cynthia has been with the Economic Empowerment Program, as both a group and individual tutor helping students master the skills necessary to take The Adult Basic Education (TABE) test. She also became a substitute literacy teacher in 2020 when Tana OsaYande, the Manager of Literacy Initiatives, was on a leave of absence. Additionally, for this cohort of EEP, Cynthia is the Book Club leader, where she is delving into the amazing story, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with her students.

“The rich conversations we are having about community, race, and country of origin vs adopted land, hair acceptability in the workplace and in life are astounding. I realize how far my students have come and the confidence they have built over a year.”

With her experience and expertise, Cynthia has become an invaluable part of the Economic Empowerment Program. “The EEP staff know how much joy I get from my interaction with all my students be it in person, in Google Classroom, or over Zoom. We are a conscious community. We can safely offer our opinions about anything, we can laugh, cry, share painful and joyful memories knowing that in our place together there is love and understanding — no fear, no retribution. We are each other’s cheering squad. Together we discover all that we are and all that we can be.”

“The road of life-changing discovery is what every teacher hopes for, but rarely experiences. I have this opportunity more than most of my peers. Every session, I learn much more than I teach/share. This is what makes volunteering with Sanctuary so remarkable: Your time spent is more than a warm fuzzy feeling. It changes lives profoundly. Most of all your life.”

The Economic Empowerment Program has been incredibly successful over the years, and it would not be possible without the help of volunteers like Cynthia. All who have had the opportunity to know and work with Cynthia are forever grateful she chose Sanctuary over two years ago, and for her commitment to our clients since.

To learn more about Cynthia Polk-Allen and her work, please join us on June 17th from 6:30pm -7:00pm at our virtual Pillars of Change.

Recognizing Isabelle Demenge: A Pillars of Change Honoree

For her exceptional leadership and support of Sanctuary’s Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivor Initiative.

For the past year, Isabelle Demenge has been an incredible addition to Sanctuary for Families’ Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative as a volunteer attorney.  Isabelle, a native of Paris, moved to New York City to attend law school and start a legal career and a family. She is the mother of three boys, has worked as a banking & finance lawyer in a major international firm, where she managed its pro bono program, and is also a children’s book author. Isabelle graduated from the University Of Chicago Law School and the University of Paris II. After her studies, she spent a decade in Hong Kong focusing on family trips, photography, and travel writing.  For over a year, Isabelle has been making significant contributions to Sanctuary’s Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative, working on cases and assisting with the development of the newest initiative of Sanctuary’s Legal Center.  We are so grateful to Isabelle and her amazing commitment to Sanctuary for Families! Her support to both staff and clients has been exceptional.

To learn more about Isabelle Demenge and her work, please join us on June 17th from 6:30pm -7:00pm at our virtual Pillars of Change.