- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2019

It was just a week ago, Mercedes Lemp recalled, that a survivor of domestic violence faced harassment on a D.C. street, panicked and called for help.

This time, said Ms. Lemp, the manager of the District’s My Sister’s Place shelter, that help was much faster.

“We were able to give her this Silent Beacon, and it was exactly what she needed to have that feeling of safety with her” for the next time she is in an unsafe situation, Ms. Lemp said.

My Sister’s Place, a shelter in Ward 5 for survivors of domestic violence, is trying out the new technology for all of its clients. The Silent Beacon, officials say, can help survivors get immediate, discreet help in life-threatening situations.

“When you are a survivor [of domestic violence], you are on edge, looking over your shoulder,” Ms. Lemp said. “[The Silent Beacon] gives you some sense of comfort and safety, just a mind-set change.”

The Bluetooth-connected device, a small plastic disk, can be attached to a key chain or purse, or worn on the pants or around the neck. With the simultaneous click of two buttons, the device can text and call a pre-set number — perhaps a friend or the 911 emergency service — and instantly activates a GPS tracker.

The Rockville, Maryland, firm that makes Silent Beacon is donating enough devices for all the clients at My Sister’s Shelter for the next year, and since it does not have a subscription fee, the devices are theirs to keep.

“Emergencies don’t happen and you have your phone in your hand,” said Kenny Kelley, founder and president of the Silent Beacon LLC. “They happen when you can’t get to your phone or when you are being kept from your phone.”

Many survivors can see their abusers often, especially if they have shared custody of their children or, as in some cases, they continue their relationship with them.

Ms. Lemp said studies show it can take about eight attempts for a survivor to finally leave their abuser.

The beacon device also has a silent mode as to not alert people the device has been activated. Mr. Kelley said he got the idea for it because of his own family member’s experience with domestic violence.

Mr. Kelley, who is from Montgomery County, was motivated to make the device after he was in two serious car accidents and wasn’t able to reach for his phone to call for help.

My Sister’s Place provides transitional and emergency housing for survivors of domestic violence and their families as well as social services to help them get back on their feet.

In its last fiscal year, the shelter housed 139 survivors and 41 children and provided support for an additional 124 survivors who are apart of the shelter’s community. The shelter also trained 300 community members in how to intervene as a bystander and offered help to 95 survivors with a legal clinic.

“Domestic violence encompasses a lot of things; so a lot of times people think of it as physical,” said Ms. Lemp. “But it can also be emotional and financial.”

Abuse occurs, she said, “any time when there’s somebody who is trying to control somebody else in a way that is limiting their freedom.”

The District’s hotline number for victims of domestic abuse is 1-(844) 443-5732 and can help place survivors and their families in housing immediately.

• Sophie Kaplan can be reached at skaplan@washingtontimes.com.

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