A safe house in the city

posted in: Social Justice | 0

The Utama Safe House (USH) is not just a safe house. It is a community that seeks to provide a safe haven for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence, especially those who have no support and are in need of protection. The staff also assist survivors through outreach programmes. USH was initiated by Sahabat Insan, a Jesuit organisation for migrant workers in Indonesia, in collaboration with several other organisations including Pulih (a charity that provides free psychological counselling services) and MiLAP (Partnership for Children and Women Services), and individual women activists.

USH came about as a response to the closure of several institutions that had provided shelters for women in Jakarta. The closure left a void and created a great need for a place where survivors of trafficking and domestic violence could receive support. Many organisations in Jakarta focus on advocacy but few provide a safe house mainly because of high property costs and rents.

Survivors engaged in handicraft as part of trauma healing in the shelterIn December 2015, some women activists against trafficking and domestic violence met with Sahabat Insan’s director Fr Ignatius Ismartono SJ to share their concerns regarding the lack of space for trafficking victims. They wanted to start a shelter but had difficulty complying with the documentation required to open such a facility.  Fr Ismartono decided that Sahabat Insan could help by acting as the legal umbrella for USH.

USH opened its doors in January 2016 and has been serving trafficking survivors and conducting public awareness programmes.  Non-government organisations in Jakarta and overseas partners have referred many cases to it.  Interestingly, only a few survivors decide to stay in the safe house. In most cases, their families decide they should go home. They also do not want to make a police report because they are wrongly afraid that the survivors would be held in detention as part of the rehabilitation. They prefer to withdraw and try to forget, which is not only unfair to the survivors and also encourages a sense of impunity in the perpetrators. This is why USH is reaching out to the public, raising awareness in every possible way, such as through movie screenings, youth gatherings and campaigns during car free day events on Sundays in Jakarta.

Volunteerism and networking are a major part of USH’s daily activities. USH provides an opportunity for people between the ages of 19 and 30 to volunteer and a volunteer recruitment drive on social media in January received applications from 140 youths from across Indonesia. Only 60 applicants from Jakarta were selected. They were asked to write a motivation letter and were interviewed by a USH team. In the end, 14, all young women with diverse religious, ethnic and educational backgrounds, were chosen.  Until December, they participate in discussions, service provision and advocacy in USH.  In this way USH doubles as a space where young women have a chance to work with their peers for the marginalised and deprived in society.

In less than a year, USH has built up a strong network with several organisations, such as pro-bono legal aid institutions, institutes providing psychological counselling and anti-trafficking organisations, which facilitate the services it offers especially in sending survivors back to their families. In addition, USH is fortunate to have the support of benefactors who generously offer help and donations in various forms.

Although relatively new, USH has been able to offer real help to survivors, and touch the hearts of survivors and volunteers alike.  It is a place where differences do not matter and young women and victims of abuse can learn from each other.