This quarter, we spoke to Luisa Caiazzo, CEO of the Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center (SARC) of Harford County to learn more about the services they provide. Visit their website here.
What makes the Harford County community you serve special?
Harford County is truly a wonderful place to live, work and serve. The area is a mix of rural and suburban, with denser development in the larger towns of Aberdeen and Bel Air and along Route 40. Due to this and our proximity to I95 our location, demographics, and transportation corridors make the county an attractive hub for various victims of intimate partner violence including sexual violence and sex trafficking. SARC has been providing free services to victims of intimate partner violence since 1978. What started as a grass roots and volunteer based organization quickly grew to be a multifaceted victim service agency. We have a 24-hour helpline, legal services, counseling services including a Human Trafficking Navigator, an emergency safehouse for victims in imminent danger, hospital companion program, and online chat available just to name a few resources offered to victims. SARC’s proximity to local law enforcement agencies, the courts, hospital, and other critical services has enhanced our partnerships so that victims are quickly referred to SARC for resources and services. Harford County and its residents are dedicated to helping SARC achieve its mission and helping to ensure that victims have access to the help they need.
Tell us about SARC’s current community prevention efforts.
We are thankful that victims have a safe place to go and that SARC can provide free resources. But, we recognize the importance of prevention and helping to break the cycle of violence before it begins. SARC has a Community Educator who works to establish and sustain relationships within the community and to provide free trainings and presentations on various topics ranging from Healthy Relationships to Teen Dating Violence to Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children, which aims to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse, to Bystander Intervention. Last fiscal year SARC provided over eighty trainings and presentations to the community. Throughout the year SARC promotes key awareness months as well as activities and fundraising events that allow the community and our partners to work together to spread awareness and unite to take a stand against intimate partner violence.
Why are you a member of MCASA?
MCASA has been invaluable in providing training as well as helping to establish the latest trends and best practices when working and advocating on behalf of victims of sexual violence. Additionally, SARC has looked to MCASA for legislative support and updates and how we can encourage our community to act in the best interest of victims.
What called you to your work?
At SARC we partner with some truly brave people that are willing to share their stories with us in hopes of making a brighter future and living a life free from abuse and fear. It is amazing to work every day with such a dedicated team of employees that give of themselves so freely in support of those who are at their lowest point. They see some horrible things but they come back every day ready to provide a word of encouragement. We see the truly dark side of people but we also see the amazing capacity for light and goodness. The community embraces the mission of SARC by giving time, talent, and treasure. It is such an inspiration to see the human spirit at its best.
How has the pandemic affected SARC and the survivors you serve?
Extra stress in the COVID-19 pandemic caused by income loss, and lack of ability to pay for housing and food has exacerbated the often-silent epidemic of intimate partner violence. At the beginning of the pandemic staying home and self-isolating was a safeguard against the coronavirus and while social distancing benefited those most at risk of becoming seriously ill, it inevitably made others more vulnerable, including victims of domestic violence and sexual violence.
Our main goal was to increase awareness and to ensure that the community recognized SARC as an essential service. We remained open and as a result of the pandemic SARC added our online chat feature. We knew that victims needed a safe and new way to reach out for help. We also increased our marketing efforts by having ads on social media, an ad on Pandora radio and a commercial. Like many other victim service agencies, we established safe ways for our services to continue. Teletherapy for individuals and groups took place and SARC was proud to remain open and available to those most in need.