Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut Reaches Out To Male Victims

New London organization changes its name and expands its mission after a year where nearly a quarter of the people served are men and boys


What’s in a name? When it comes to a man seeking help as a victim of sexual assault or domestic abuse, it can mean everything.

Which is why the Women’s Center of Southeastern Connecticut is changing its name to Safe Futures. More than 60 people turned out for an event at the Mystic Hilton on September 20 to celebrate the center's new name.

Last year, 26 percent of the people served by the newly renamed Safe Futures were men and boys, said Catherine Zeiner, executive director of the organization. It was less than 9 percent in 1998.

“Just imagine being a male victim of sexual assault or domestic violence and trying to get over this stigma to ask for help and finding out the only place to get help is a place called the Women’s Center.”

Zeiner thought the name could reduce the chances of a man seeking services for sexual assault or domestic abuse.

“So after a lot of thought and soul searching, we decided it was time to change our name,” Zeiner said. “We needed to be sure that we were a place that’s welcoming to all who need us and that our name embodies our vision for a safe future in southeastern Connecticut where violence and abuse is not tolerated and where every victim and survivor gets the support and resources they need to create a new life for themselves.”

The services offered won’t change with the new name, Zeiner said.

The Women Center started in 1976 and in the last 36 years its “mission has evolved and refocused so that today we save lives, restore hope and change the future for nearly 6,000 victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in southeastern Connecticut every year,” Zeiner said.

Dawn Gardega, a survivor of domestic violence, spoke about the help that her mom and two siblings received from the Women Center. She feels her story “is not only one of survival, but also of breaking the cycle.” She told the audience that she remembers “the fighting, the pushing, the yelling, the pleas, and the sound of skin on skin contact” that took place in her home. 

Gardega broke the cycle of violence by becoming a “well-grounded, healthy adult,” she said. Her mother has since remarried to a man she is “proud to call her stepdad for the past 11 years” and her “sister has never been in an abusive relationship and her little brother is in his second year of college.”

“I have worked for the Women Center, now Safe Futures, for nine years now,” Zeiner said. “I can tell you I have never been so proud of the work we’re doing and so inspired at what we have yet to do as I am today.”

Darcie Folsom, a coordinator for sexual violence education at Connecticut College and a board member at Safe Futures, said she’s “very excited about the new name and the new brand of the organization.”

Folsom talked about inspiring everyone to take action and the butterfly effect.

“All I’m asking you to do is create your own butterfly effect by helping us spread the word,” Folsom said about getting the Safe Futures name out to the world.

According to a press release, Safe Futures’ new website, www.SafeFuturesCT.org, was designed by Ninedot, a branding agency with offices in Providence, Rhode Island and New London, for free. Ninedot offered “a majority of its services pro bono.”

Laurie Blefeld, of Mystic, said the new name was “very inspirational” and that it “encompasses everyone.”

Jana Noyes, of Groton thinks the new name will be “more effective in communicating safety from violence.”


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