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BE SAFE wins $1 million grant to aid seniors, people with disabilities victimized by domestic abuse

Mindy Cervoni at a podium with four women behind her.
Erie County
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Mindy Cervoni, president and chief executive officer of Community Services for Every1, speaks outside the Rath Building Tuesday.

Buffalo and Erie County Stopping Abuse in the Family Environment, or BE SAFE, is a collaborative aiding victims of domestic violence, especially more vulnerable populations. It’s getting a million-dollar boost from the federal government to supplement efforts to protect and advocate for elderly and disabled victims.

According to the National Institutes of Health, one in 10 adults over the age of 60 are victims of domestic or family abuse, neglect or financial exploitation. Seniors with dementia and people living with disabilities are three times more likely to be victims.

BE SAFE was one of 41 programs chosen by the US Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women to receive a share of $30 million to supplement initiatives.

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their home. Unfortunately, we still have work to do and a long way to go. Family and domestic violence affects an estimated 10 million people every single year,” said Congressman Brian Higgins, who appeared in Buffalo to announce the grant.

BE SAFE will use its grant to hire more help in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office and the county’s probation department to work with cases involving domestic abuse of people ages 60 and older, and people living with disabilities.

“This money, a million dollars, over a three=year period, is going to pay for the people who are on the front lines prosecuting, investigating, and ensuring that those who are being prosecuted stay in line and don't do it again,” said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.

Some of the money will also support advocates who work with victims. Mindy Cervoni, president and chief executive officer of Community Services for Every1, said this will help the victims who many times are unable to help themselves.

“Without this coordinated effort between the county, Community Services and the Center for Elder Law and Justice, these crimes may otherwise go unpunished,” Cervoni said. “Victims may otherwise not be able to advocate for themselves. And so the role of community services is going to be to have a caseworker to help make sure that victims hold their perpetrators accountable.”

“Unfortunately, this perception of individuals with disabilities and for those with intellectual developmental disabilities, it's often perceived as a mental health issue, or they're perceived as someone that can't be a reliable witness, or can't rely on them telling what has happened accurately, when all they really need is the extra time and the support that they need to be able to do that and work with the system,” said Tiffany Pavone, administrator of Victim Services and Advocacy Programs with Community Services for Every1.

BE SAFE's partners include the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, the Erie County Department of Probation, the Center for Elder Law and Justice and Community Services for Every1.