This article first appeared in Texas Lifestyle Magazine on November 19, 2019.
“I am a social worker,” says Kathryn Jacobs.
Jacobs, who was named North Texas Social Worker of the Year in 2017, is also an innovator, a leader and humanitarian, who speaks three languages and has devoted her career to helping others for over 20 years. During this time of year, as many of us look forward to heading home to the warmth and love of family, her role as head of a nonprofit dedicated to serving those challenged by domestic violence is particularly poignant.
In 2015, SafeHaven of Tarrant County named her President and CEO of the nonprofit, which focuses on ending domestic violence through education, support, prevention and social change. With approximately 20 people a minute in the U.S. suffering physical abuse and one in three women in Tarrant County experiencing intimate partner violence within their lifetime, SafeHaven is a safe space for women and children to escape abusive homes.
Like everything else she tackled, Jacobs hit the ground running by developing a new strategic plan to push the agency forward. In the first year, she’s moved SafeHaven’s headquarters, subsequently increasing their yearly budget.
“The words “I believe you” make a world of difference – without them, domestic violence victims don’t get the support they need and offenders are never held accountable, “ says Jacobs.
The Chicago native is certainly no stranger to helping others. In 2000, she joined the United States Peace Corp where she worked in Turkmenistan, a country with many challenges, flanked as it is by its war-torn neighbors Iran and Afghanistan. Back in the United States, after becoming a Master Social Worker in 2004, Jacobs took on the role of Executive Director of the Housing Crisis Center in Dallas.
What experience do you bring to SafeHaven?
Most of all, I brought a fire for systemic change regarding our community’s relationship to gender-based violence. Women are literally dying at the hands of their offenders and our community’s services were so siloed that we weren’t even talking about it.
How is SafeHaven helping domestic violence survivors?
So many ways! SafeHaven is the only state-designated family violence center in Tarrant County and runs the only two emergency shelters for domestic violence victims. But in addition to that, we offer a wide array of services—counseling, case management, children’s programming, legal services, offender services, and prevention programming. We also facilitate the county’s only High Risk Team, a life-saving intervention when shelter isn’t the answer.
What are the biggest challenges facing your nonprofit?
There are a set of challenges typical for all nonprofits: money, resources. Then, there are challenges unique to this work: male privilege, power and control, stigma, fear, systemic failures. I would argue the biggest challenge is offenders. Offenders are the cause of intimate partner violence. Without offenders, the issue does not exist.
Does SafeHaven try to prevent domestic violence?
We have a very robust prevention program that follows a strict set of prevention guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control. Our program works in partnership with schools throughout Tarrant County. We also facilitate one of the only accredited offender programs in Tarrant County, our Partner Abuse Intervention Program. I would argue, while this is an intervention with offenders who have already abused, it also plays an important role in preventing future cases.
Is it easier now for women to come forward?
I go back and forth on that. I think it is easier as we’ve seen social movements like #metoo and #whyistayed. But it’s also harder because the cases are more violent. It is very difficult to leave a violent relationship. I think that has gotten more challenging.
Has one case really affected you?
There have been so many, sadly. Some end happily ever after and others end in death—so they affect me for different reasons. I have three small children and any case involving a mom protecting her children…those are hard for me to even talk about. Moms would die for their children and I understand this at a visceral level.