Sigrid Stang is the InVEST Advocate at the Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC)—a job that so perfectly aligns with her qualifications, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t created just for her. Sigrid moved to Sarasota from Connecticut seven years ago, where she worked as a law enforcement officer, serving on patrol and as a crisis negotiator, domestic violence liaison and instructor for her department. Today, at SPARCC, she works with survivors of domestic violence who are at high risk of being killed by their intimate partners, helping them create safety plans, assisting in batterer accountability, and navigating the criminal justice process in Sarasota County, during which she often works closely with Legal Aid of Manasota.

SPARCC is the only state-certified center for domestic violence and sexual assault services for Sarasota and DeSoto counties. In addition to myriad advocacy and support services, SPARCC provides shelter for victims of domestic violence for up to eight weeks, and all services are free and confidential.

We talked with Sigrid about her work, what people should know about domestic violence, and SPARCC’s partnership with Legal Aid of Manasota. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What brought you to Sarasota?

“I got tired of the Connecticut snow! Plus, my daughter and her husband moved to Florida and started a family, so I came to Florida.”

Tell us more about your role at SPARCC.

“My position was specifically put in Sarasota County because it is one of 10 counties in the state of Florida that has the highest number of intimate partner homicides.”

“I work closely with people who are at risk of being killed by their intimate partner. I help identify them, get them into services and navigate the criminal justice process against their abuser, as well as help them understand what’s going on. I also work with the state attorney’s office, law enforcement and community partners like Legal Aid of Manasota. I provide training and education, as well. There’s a lot of collaboration and outreach.”

Are people surprised to hear that Sarasota has such a high incidence of domestic violence?

“People are shocked. But a lot of our community—especially in South Sarasota County—is elderly, and that generation didn’t talk about domestic violence. It was just between the husband and wife. Now that generation is starting to pass on, and there’s more awareness and education that’s bringing people forward. People are learning more and more about domestic violence and sexual assault.”

What is something people might not understand about domestic violence?

“You often hear someone on the outside say, ‘Why won’t she just leave him?’ But people don’t realize that leaving an abuser is not an event, it’s a process. The most dangerous time for a victim is when she’s planning to leave, or when she serves her partner legal documentation. As outsiders, we often focus on what the victim is doing. We don’t ask why the abuser doesn’t stop hitting her.

“It’s scientifically proven that the brains of survivors of domestic violence become addicted to the ‘fight or flight’ and recovery process. The abuse is scary, then there’s a letdown period, followed by a honeymoon phase when the abuser tries to bring the survivor back in, and the survivor’s brain starts to feel happy and safe. It’s a chemical reaction; it’s no different than addiction to a drug, alcohol or coffee and it’s almost impossible to get out of.

“On average, it takes a survivor 10 times to leave her partner.”

Are most victims of domestic violence women?

“Statistically, yes. We do have male victims, but the majority are women.”

How do you work with community partners, like Legal Aid of Manasota?

“We work under confidentiality with our survivors, so when we ID someone who may need services—for example, an injunction for protection—we explain to our community partners what the level of confidentiality is and how we can work together for the survivor to provide the assistance they need. That’s worked well for us—especially with Legal Aid of Manasota. You all are aware, educated and compassionate towards survivors, and you understand that survivors act differently than victims of other crimes.”

What can the friends and family of someone experiencing abuse do to help?

“The best thing I can say is don’t give up on them, because it is so easy to get back into a dangerous, toxic, narcissistic and abusive relationship if that’s all the person has in their life, or all they know. When people give up on a survivor, that’s part of the power and control the abuser has over them. It may take 50 times for someone to leave, but be patient. That 50th time might be the time they come to you for help.”

Finally, will you tell us a little more about the other services that SPARCC provides?

“We have a 24/7 hotline here in Sarasota, and we offer supportive talk and goal setting services 24/7. We also offer outreach in Venice, North Port and Arcadia.

“We provide shelter to survivors for up to eight weeks; it used to be six weeks. We have a kennel on-site for pets, because some survivors will not leave home without their animals. We require vaccination, but we also have a veterinarian who will come vaccinate pets. Staying in the shelter doesn’t cost survivors anything; they can simply get to safety and tell someone about what’s going on. We’re also a dual center, which means that we assist with domestic violence and sexual assault.

“We offer therapy, sexual assault advocacy, and on-call advocacy in which our advocates will go to hospitals to sit by a survivor’s side. We offer case management; domestic violence and sexual assault support groups, including in Spanish; immigration advocacy through bilingual advocates; and economic justice advocacy, in which our advocates can help survivors get caught up on bills and car repairs, through grants. We have a relocation specialist who can help assist with rent and necessities, like a moving truck or help find a storage unit until the survivor gets their own new apartment—again, through grants. We have advocates who work closely with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and will help the survivor work through dependency court and any interaction with DCF.

“We have so many tools and modalities. We can truly help a survivor if they want to be independent of their abuser.”