To Young Survivors of Domestic Violence, Summer Camp Brings Hope

This summer, Sanctuary will be leading the second Camp HOPE America: New York. Learn how this trauma-informed camp is helping young victims of domestic violence heal and find hope again.

Annika is a Development Intern at Sanctuary and a high school rising senior at Friends Seminary in New York City. She is passionate about politics and criminal justice and hopes to study government in college.

Summer camp is a place where children can disconnect from technology, be active, grow independent, develop their social skills, connect with nature, and make life long memories and friends. It offers young people an escape from their routines at home, and an outlet to have fun and express themselves freely. For some children, summer camp is the only place where they can truly be kids.

Children who are impacted by domestic violence often have no choice but to grow up quickly, missing essential childhood milestones that inform their development and personal growth. Domestic violence affects roughly 1 in 4 women in the United States; as a result, approximately 15.5 million children in the United States live in families where domestic violence has been perpetrated. Some children and adolescents have no choice but to take on parental roles in the household, act as guardians to younger siblings and take care of their abused parent. Others may turn to risky behavior, including drug use and gang affiliation, to cope with their stressful home environments. Either way, domestic violence robs kids and teens of their childhoods, leading to lifelong trauma and behavioral problems that often promote the continuation of the cycle of violence. Sleepaway camps offer young survivors of domestic violence the chance to be kids, removed from the potential stresses and dangers of their families’ living circumstances.

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In 2018, Sanctuary partnered with Camp HOPE America to run the first session of Camp HOPE New York, a one week sleep away camp that affords children affected by domestic violence the opportunity to access crucial childhood experiences that they may have missed out on as a result of abuse. With its specialized trauma-informed approach and dedicated staff, Camp HOPE is designed to specifically meet the needs of each child who attends. At Camp HOPE, campers enjoy classic outdoor activities that help to build trust and confidence in themselves and their peers. Each session of Sanctuary’s Camp HOPE has approximately 36 campers and 14 counselors, yielding an impressive >3 to 1 camper to counselor ratio which ensures that every camper gets the personalized attention they may need. Camp HOPE America’s website states, “Hope reflects an individual’s capacity to develop pathways and dedicate agency toward desirable goals.” Using the ‘Children’s HOPE Scale’, Camp HOPE America has seen increased growth in its campers’ capacities for hope over the course of several summers.

Andrea Yeriazarian, Sanctuary’s Program Director for Children and Family Services, works closely with the staff at Camp HOPE to ensure that it is a positive experience for campers and counselors alike. When I spoke to Andrea about her experience at Camp HOPE New York last year, she described some of the activities that help campers get the most out of their time there: “Each day, our campers read a story about someone who went through a difficult childhood — which could have included violence, or war, or any number of things — and who were able to find support outside of their family and become a very successful adult. We would then gather around a campfire to discuss these stories and talk about how, despite what happened in the past or what we’re going through now, there is always be hope for a better future. The definition of HOPE that we use is ‘believing in yourself, believing in your dreams, and believing in others’, so those stories are meant to teach the campers that if you believe in yourself and reach out for support from others, that you can achieve your dreams”.

When I asked Andrea how counselors support campers who struggle with taking risks, she described a Camp HOPE motto, ‘challenge by choice’. She explained, “…for some kids who are afraid of water, their challenge by choice might just be putting on a bathing suit and standing on the shore.” Kids are not pressured into doing anything that makes them uncomfortable; rather, they are encouraged to set goals, to challenge themselves, and to overcome their fears.

As we were wrapping up our conversation, Andrea shared a success story from Sanctuary’s first session of Camp HOPE New York:

“A camper told us that trying out new things at Camp– things she had been worried about but that she did really well at – gave her the courage to try out for a school sports team for the first time. She now felt confident and ready to take on new challenges, because she knew she could do it.”

Childhood is a precious time that should be full of fun and excitement, not violence and trauma. All campers who attended Sanctuary’s Camp HOPE last summer had overwhelmingly positive experiences and those who are eligible look forward to returning this summer.  

If you would like to support Sanctuary for Families’ second Camp HOPE and our youngest clients, please click here.

Survivor Leadership Institute Graduation: Celebrating leadership and each other

Sanctuary Client Renata writes about her experience as a member of the Survivor Leadership Institute’s Graduating Class of 2019.

Renata is a Survivor Leadership Institute graduate from the Class of 2019.  Our Survivor Leaders are former clients of Sanctuary, who go through a 12-week training and certification course to prepare them to make system-wide change through advocacy, training, program development, and working directly with other survivors. The training course includes public speaking, vicarious trauma, self-care, media re-exploitation, advocacy, and boundary setting.  

The Survivor Leadership Institute has a rigorous application and interview process, as the content of the training program is very challenging and can be triggering.  Each of the graduates has participated in counseling in the past, and during the program they rely on their skills, their strength, their robust support systems and one another in our Survivor Leadership community. They have done the work to make it this far, and we are honored to have them become Sanctuary Survivor Leaders.

We often think of graduation as a milestone marking an entrance to a higher standing and the receipt of a diploma. To graduate also means to move from one stage of experience and prestige to a higher one, such as leadership. On May 13, 2019, the new cohort of survivor leaders at Sanctuary for Families did just that. I’m proud to say I am a part of this tribe, a part of the new cohort and a part of the story that extends before my time and to individuals who remain hidden and still in trouble.

As each of us stood at the podium to speak our truth, we celebrated life. Life after pain. Life after heartbreak. Life after trauma. We joined a brave tribe of survivor leaders fighting for justice, lifting shame, eradicating stigma, and promoting healing—all of whom are doing so with courage and strength that this work requires. Most of us didn’t choose our experiences. We didn’t choose our hurt. We didn’t choose disappointment and struggle. Now we certainly don’t choose what happened in our lives to define us. We choose to stand up, speak up, break the cycle, fight the system, educate the world, and be there for each other along the way. Today we choose to do something. Standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, today we are ready to support others on our shoulders. Our past drives us. Our future excites us. Our present allows us to show up—for ourselves, each other, and hopefully, many others.

For me, and I suppose for many others, healing is a process with ups and downs. It involves empathy and forgiveness—especially for myself. Healing also involves love for myself and others. My fellow survivor leaders and I are here today because the deeply broken people who tried to break us didn’t succeed. Unfortunately for many others, this is not the case. I hope that one day we will focus on the troubled situations that give rise to people who think it’s their right to take the lives of others, in one way or another, but we still have a long way to go. It’s an honor and privilege to stand among individuals paving the way for the justice that many of us never received and as a reminder that this can happen to anyone, and if it’s happening to you, you are not alone. We need to close the chapter on the narrative of broken, fragile, and gullible victims. No one standing at the podium at the Survivor Leadership Institute Graduation embodies any of these qualities. Instead, it was a night celebrating courage, determination, strength, vulnerability, resilience, and hope, along with intelligence, beauty, inspiration, and humor.

I recognize that I get to tell my story because I am lucky, and I survived. But becoming a leader isn’t luck—for me, it’s about being grateful for my life with all its twists and turns, the support of my fellow leaders, and Sanctuary for Families. This leadership opportunity is so much bigger than my story. The truth is that to get where I am today, I had to experience my yesterday. I stand with my humanity intact, and I no longer bear the weight of the lack of it in others.

Graduation night was a testament to the fact that our tribe is getting bigger. Our collective voice is getting louder. As Oprah says, our voices are our power. By breaking our silence and sharing our stories, we are taking our power back. Power we didn’t give away. Power that was taken from us by people we loved and trusted. This is an important distinction I hope others come to accept and recognize as we move away from painting inaccurate caricatures of victims and begin to focus on the individuals, ideologies and systems perpetuating gender-based (and related forms of) violence.

On International Agunah Day, Sanctuary Stands with Jewish Orthodox Survivors

Learn about the plight of “chained women” and how you can support our work within the Jewish Orthodox Community.

On the eve of Purim, the Jewish Orthodox community observes Ta’anit Esther to commemorate the plea of Queen Esther – a Jewish woman who saved her people during their exile in the Persian Empire. Like many Jewish women today, Esther was trapped in a forced marriage to the king of Persia and spent years fearing her husband might kill her.

Today, Sanctuary joins advocates around the world to observe the International Day of the Agunah – a day marked yearly on the Fast of Esther to bring awareness to the plight of the modern-day agunah, or “chained woman” – and stands in solidarity with Jewish Orthodox women in New York and across the world who have suffered from get-refusal and are trapped in unwanted marriages.

According to Jewish law, a marriage can only be dissolved once the husband voluntarily grants a get, or religious divorce, to his wife – something many men refuse to do out of malice or to use as leverage when negotiating financial settlements and custody arrangements. Get-refusal is thus a form of domestic violence by which the husband asserts power and control to deny his wife the opportunity to separate and move on with her life. Orthodox Jewish women in these situations are called agunot, or chained women, for they are not allowed to remarry. For agunot, any new relationship they have is considered adultery, and their children will be considered illegitimate if conceived outside of marriage.

At Sanctuary, we recognize get-refusal as a form of gender violence that harms women, their children, and the wider Jewish Orthodox Community. In 2015, seeing that many women seeking help with civil and religious divorces had virtually nowhere to turn for help, we launched the Jewish Orthodox Matrimonial Project. In the years since, we have provided clinical and legal services, shelter, and economic empowerment to hundreds of Jewish Orthodox women and their children. Furthermore, we have actively engaged with rabbis, community leaders, and peer organizations, to build a network of advocates committed to raising awareness about domestic violence within the Jewish Orthodox community and protecting the rights and wellbeing of survivors.

Please consider demonstrating your solidarity this International Agunah Day by donating to Sanctuary’s Jewish Orthodox Matrimonial Project.

Attorney General Endangers Women and Children with New Restrictions to Asylum Law

Attorney General Sessions’ decision concerning Matter A-B- reverses decades of asylum law and puts at tremendous risk the lives of women and children who have suffered horrendous domestic violence in their home countries. Read our statement.

Our Statement

Sanctuary for Families stands with survivors of violence in condemning yesterday’s announcement by U.S. Attorney General Sessions to overturn Matter of A-B- — a case which he referred to himself and one in which he directed immigration judges to deny asylum to survivors of domestic violence.

That heartless decision reverses decades of asylum law and puts at tremendous risk the lives of women and children who have suffered horrendous domestic violence in their home countries. It also leaves vulnerable victims of other human rights abuses including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The United States has long been a safe haven for immigrants who have been persecuted and cannot rely on their own governments to protect them. This decision by A.G. Sessions eviscerates that safe haven, limiting the types of cases in which immigration judges can grant asylum and thereby increasing the likelihood that women, children, and others will be sent back to their persecutors.

Hon. Judy Kluger, Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families, stated:

“At Sanctuary for Families, too many of our clients bear the scars of unrelenting intimate partner violence that occurs in countries where no government or authorities will intervene. For many, a forced return to their nation of origin will be nothing short of a death sentence.”

Lori Adams, incoming Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project, said:

“This callous move by the Attorney General threatens the lives of those seeking refuge in the United States, after having suffered tremendous violence and believing that this country would stand by its promise to protect those who cannot find safety in their own countries. It is a huge step backward for this country and an atrocious way to treat vulnerable immigrants who came here seeking our help.”

This decision was issued in the wake of other brutal immigration changes including a sharp increase in the criminal prosecution of asylum-seekers for “illegal entry” and a practice of separating mothers from their babies and young children at the U.S.-Mexico border to detain them in separate immigration jails, for the stated purpose of deterring families from making the journey north to seek protection in this country. It is cruel and inhumane to treat mothers and children as pawns in a political game.

Sanctuary for Families and other legal services and human rights organizations will continue to work together to push back against this incremental erosion of the rights of asylum-seekers to seek protection in this country. We invite you to stand with us and to fight for the rights of all survivors of gender-based violence.

Take Action

Donate to support Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Program

Call your Senators and Congressional Representatives and use the script below:

“Hi, my name is NAME, I’m from CITY, STATE, and I’m a constituent of SENATOR / REPRESENTATIVE NAME. I’m calling today to ask SENATOR / REPRESENTATIVE NAME to stand up for victims of gender violence, those escaping gang warfare, and LGBTQ+ people, and demand that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reverse his decision on the Matter of A-B-. Sessions’ decision to deny asylum to those persecuted by private actors is a cruel step backwards for our country. Please speak out. Thank you.”