Nearly 1 in 4 women have been victims of domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. There are the recognizable effects of domestic violence, the physical and emotional damage that’s known to most, but the impact reaches far deeper than the surface. Kalyn Risker helps local survivors of domestic violence recover financially through her organization Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment.
SAFE specifically helps survivors of domestic violence in overcoming the effects of economic abuse through one-on-one meetings and group workshops. Since it was founded in 2006, SAFE has helped more than 1,100 survivors of domestic violence in the Detroit area.
Risker says it sometimes takes longer to realize that economic abuse is actually a form of abuse because it’s a fairly new conversation around domestic violence.
“That’s where an abuser will prevent the victim from working, or if they are working, perhaps the abuser is controlling the family finances, the car, the home,” Risker says. “When a victim decides that their situation is an unsafe situation, there’s the realization of the economic barriers, and that makes it a lot harder to leave.”
Risker was inspired to start safe through both personal and professional experiences with domestic violence. In 1998, after being in a seven-year relationship, she was involved in a physically abusive altercation.
“He shattered my eye socket. I have a titanium implant that replaces the bone under my eye,” Risker says. “I’m very blessed that I can still see and that I don’t look like I sustained the number of injuries that I did.”
Following the relationship and a long recovery, Risker had the opportunity to go back to school and restart her life, which she understood was fortunate.
Risker also says she had encounters with women dealing with domestic violence through her job as a human resources executive. Through her experiences, she got to see how domestic violence affects not only employees and potential employees, but also coworkers and the office environment.
“A woman called and she said she was just trying to get a job, and that she’d take anything, housekeeping, whatever,” Risker says. “She told me ‘I just don’t even know what to do. I’m in this abusive relationship, and I’m just trying to get a place, I need some money, I just need to work somewhere.’”
SAFE helps survivors of domestic violence gain the skills and specialized training needed to reenter the workforce, in addition to helping with budgeting and personal finance.
“We work specifically in regards to safely planning how to seek work if they’re being stalked by their abuser,” Risker says. “We help victims with their resume and being more marketable, especially when they’ve had very little job history.”
While the need for nonprofit organizations like SAFE is great, Risker says that over the years she’s seen quite a few domestic violence programs and shelters close.
“We have one shelter in a far corner of the city. Even if they have an opening, its hard for someone on the other side of the city to get to it. That’s 67 beds for women and children, so that’s not even 67 survivors. The statistics are one in four women are affected by domestic violence in their lifetime. And if you look at the statistics of how many women are in Detroit, that’s not good.”
What Risker enjoys most about her work at SAFE is when women come back with success stories. Because SAFE’s work is about economic rebuilding, it does take longer to see its effects.
“I may get a call two years later saying ‘I got a place. My kids are in a safe space now and we’re comfortable,’” Risker says. “Sometimes it’s just the satisfaction of being able to pick out your own furniture, things that other people take for granted, feeling safe and secure, feeling like you’re in charge of your own destiny-those are successes.”
Keep up with Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment by listening to their weekly online radio show The Vault, launching April 7. Each week, Risker says the show will highlight information about domestic violence and safety planning, incorporate guest speakers and spotlight various community programs. For more information on programs, call 800-757-4919 or visit NewSafeStart.org.