The Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) does something unique in the field of rehabilitating violent offenders—it offers help to their victims.
Some might describe the award-winning program, run by the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department, as “the guys get acupuncture and yoga and the women get nothing,” said its founder, lawyer Sunny Schwartz. But such a description would be wrong.
Instead, RSVP reaches out to women victimized by violence. It offers free help to those who suffered from violent crimes committed by men enrolled in the program. Aid comes in many forms, including job training, legal services, psychological counseling, clothing, food, acupuncture, yoga, and beauty sessions with other women.
“We go to court with them if they need it,” said Delia Ginorio, who coordinates RSVP’s outreach to victims. “We get them medical help. We’ve provided reconstructive surgery from doctors and we’ll get them out of transitional housing into better housing for them and their kids.”
Because the assistance is confidential—RSVP doesn’t tell the offenders that it’s working with the women—it enables the program to reach women, such as undocumented U.S. residents or substance abusers, who are reluctant to deal with the police.
After making sure the women are safe and no longer in a crisis situation, there’s a 12-week program that includes classes on financial planning, parenting and healthy relationships, self-defense, self-esteem, and group support. It often leads to empathy for offenders, said Ginorio.
Twenty-five women accepted RSVP’s offer of help in its first year, 1997. Now the program reaches out to about 500 women a year. It has 1,000 active and follow-up cases annually, ranging from teens to pensioners.
One of those women is Sylvia. Her husband of 24 years threw a knife at her when she discovered him cutting up heroin for his previously-secret addiction. He went to jail for a year, then drug treatment; she went to RSVP’s 12-week program, finding it “something like Alcoholics Anonymous.” The mother of two teens received psychological counseling and learned that her husband’s drug addiction and his long-time verbal and emotional abuse were not her fault, as she had imagined.
“I don’t want to hate him for the rest of my life,” she said. “I see now what drugs do to a person—how it’s a sickness, a disease. After RSVP, I feel empowered. I’m not afraid. I’m ready to move on.”