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“It’s a public health epidemic because it is linked to child welfare. Millions of dollars are lost to this issue. We haven’t uncovered the real impact, the trauma to men, women, children, and pets.”
Dr. Maria Garay-Serratos is the CEO of Sojourner Center, a domestic violence shelter in Phoenix, Arizona that is breaking new ground both in principal and in practice.
“I believe a world can be created free from domestic violence because it happened in my family and we did it by ourselves. We shouldn’t allow people to walk this journey alone,” she says. “We are developing better solutions by asking deeper questions.”
Garay-Serratos is trying to change the way people think about and talk about domestic violence. She has teamed up with the University of Arizona College of Medicine, USC, and Alliance Bank to put on a first-of-its-kind symposium, bringing together leaders in various fields to address the root causes of domestic violence, break down boundaries, and talk about intervention and treatment programs that help disrupt the cycle.
The Sojourner Center has gained national attention for its “BRAIN Program”, which focuses on women and children who have Traumatic Brain Injuries.
“20 million women are walking around with undiagnosed TBI,” Garray-Serratos says. “A lot of children are walking around in our school systems [unable to focus and learn].”
The Center has also started a pet program.
“We found that 40% of women who were in a domestic violence situation did not leave because there was no accommodations for their pet,” Garay-Serratos says.
And in situations where women did leave their animals, she says a high percentage ended up maimed, injured or killed.
“You come and bring your pet with you. It’s a pilot program that has been so successful because the demand is so immense. We are also fostering, so if you are in another facility, you can bring your pet and we will foster for you.”
The programs that Sojourner points to as successful will be discussed at the Symposium titled “A World Free From Domestic: Moving the Conversation”. It takes place April 14th.
“We have the Huffington Post, Forbes, Arizona Republic, Univision all talking about the issue. Getting it to the global level takes away the stigma and gets people talking,” says Arizona State Senator Robert Meza, who is one of the featured speakers.
Meza believes behavioral health needs to be a priority as well as early intervention.
“Getting kids at a young age will break the pattern of behavior and heal them so it doesn’t reoccur in their lifetime, and their cycle here on Earth.”
For Garay-Serratos, moving the conversation is very personal. She only recently began to open up about her personal family story of domestic violence. And, she says, it gives her hope.
“It’s been important for me to realize the significance of sharing a story and coming out of the shadows. And I learned that by sharing my unique story, I have opened up a discussion. I have brought humanity to my father who was the abuser. Let’s stop judging.”
To find out more about the Symposium, The Sojourner Center or if you need help for yourself or your family, go to http://www.sojournercenter.org