Following a meeting with volunteer victims advocate and Greenpointer Deborah Spiroff, State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol introduced The Safe Way Home Act this week, to provide sexual assault victims free transportation home from the hospital following treatment.
The budget would be provided through seized forfeiture funds from the district attorney’s office and the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services would be the program administrator.
Spiroff, who identifies as a survivor, has volunteered for the past two years at Wycoff Heights Medical Center in the Violence Intervention Treatment Program, working on call two to four days per month for 12 – 15 hour shifts. Volunteers like herself must go through training and a background check to volunteer their service to victims of sexual assaults.
“I’ve had more than one case where after the person has been treated they’re just released, and they literally were walking home from Wycoff Hospital at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock in the morning,” Spiroff said. “And even if it’s earlier in the day depending on where an assault may have occurred, it could have been near a subway; assaults happen everywhere. And frequently cell phones are stolen, wallets are stolen, metro cards are stolen, it’s just a very overwhelming traumatic time.”
Spiroff is a fine artist by profession and has lived between Manhattan and Brooklyn since 1988, and in Greenpoint since 2004. By volunteering at the hospital, she found the Violence Intervention Treatment Program effective in helping survivors up until the point of discharge from the hospital, so she decided to bring the issue up with her department.
“I saw that this was happening and I went to my department, which happens to have a wonderful program that really does support victims and survivors….and I got a ‘It’s not in the budget,'” Spiroff said. She soon after launched a crowdfunding campaign while reaching out to local elected officials Senator Julia Salazar, Councilmember Stephen Levin, and Assemblymember Joe Lentol, who met with Spiroff and drafted the bill and introduced it earlier this week. Spiroff recalls the moment she decided to take action:
So what literally prompted me to do a crowdsource campaign is that I had a particularly difficult case and once again the person had to walk home, and it was really really not a good case, but medically they were discharged from the hospital. And it was 2:30 in the morning and as part of my protocol I asked ‘Do you have a safe place to go?’
I try to figure out that they’re not going home to an unsafe environment and they told me that that they were walking home. I personally called car service for myself. I legally can not assist in providing any sort of funds or transportation or anything; that’s outside my scope of what I’m allowed to do. And I swore that was the last time that it was going to happen.
The Safeway Home Act will have to pass by the assembly and senate before being signed into law. “Sexual assault is a heinous crime in which a victim’s medical and safety needs are of the utmost importance,” Assemblyman Lentol said in a statement. “We must do all that we can to ensure that the time after a sexual assault does not present additional stress or worry for the victim,” he said.