An innovative support group will soon be available to victims of violent crimes in Santa Barbara County.
"Someone I loved was murdered and I was in a foreign country and I had very little coping skills except silence," said Arlene Stepputat, founding member of the non-profit organization Freedom to Choose.
The new program is geared toward people like Stepputat.
The unique initiative is a collaboration between the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office and Freedom to Choose.
The program is called Healing Ourselves and will teach victims of already prosecuted and closed cases how to deal with their pain and move forward in their lives.
"We think a violent crime, no matter which one it is, can really sometimes ruin a person's life either with practical consequences or with emotional consequences," said Silvia Uribe, a victim-witness advocate in Santa Barbara County.
The free-of-charge pilot program will provide victims a safe space to share their experiences and learn tools to help with the healing process.
"As someone who has been a victim myself, here in Santa Barbara, and been through the victim assistance program, a group is something I could've used," said Stepputat.
Uribe is just one of the county's victim-witness advocates and says the program has the potential to impact more lives that one might think.
"My case load is about 500 new cases every year plus the ones we carry. We maintain contacts with victims for a long time," said Uribe.
As a victim of violence herself, Stepputat said she is hopeful the program will help people understand there is no shame in being a victim.
The program starts on February 25 and will be based in Santa Barbara.
Meetings will be held at the First United Methodist Church on Anapamu Street and Garden Street.
The group size is limited and pre-registration is required. To do so you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Organizers said if the need for more resources arises, the program has the possibility to expand.