Haven Box offers comfort after survivors of sexual violence leave hospital

About a year ago, she launched Haven Box, a new Rhode Island-based nonprofit that provides “comfort boxes” to survivors before they are discharged from the hospital.

Q: What’s inside each Haven Box?

Leach: Our mission is to bring some comfort through these boxes to survivors of sexual assault. The boxes are assembled with care and compassion to support a person’s inherent dignity, care and recovery after experiencing sexual violence.

There are clothes in each of our boxes, including t-shirts, socks and sweatpants for when the survivor leaves the hospital. Each garment is unused and unisex – it’s not just for women. We also include basic hygiene items, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste and wipes for an immediate need. And then we include self-care products for the days after the sexual assault and the exam, like a candle, tea, coloring books and crayons, and a plush blanket. There is also a resource booklet with encouraging words and local resources in case people want to follow up with support services or reports. (Resources for survivors are also posted on their website.)

Q: How much do the boxes cost and who pays for them?

Leach: Individuals can sponsor a box for $25 each. Their first name and initial are listed on a label on the outside of the box. It’s kind of like a message that shows the survivor that someone cares.

We also have an Amazon wishlist, where individuals can order the products that go in the box that are cheaper than the $25 referral price, such as buying the toothpaste we include (in bulk for less than $10 $), or a piece of clothing. If anyone is looking to learn about survivors of sexual violence, self-care, or trauma recovery, we also have a Bookshop account, which is a curated library of titles. When someone orders a book from our page, we receive a commission, which goes directly towards creating more boxes for survivors.

Q: How does Haven Box fit into your own journey?

Leach: I started in the advocacy space when I was appointed as my unit’s sexual assault response coordinator in 2007, while on active duty in the US military. Since leaving the service, I have held positions as a non-clinical sexual assault counselor and law enforcement advocate with victim service providers. I worked as a Domestic Violence Shelter Program Manager and then got to work on macro policy work before landing as Deputy Director of the Sexual Violence Advocacy and Support Center at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

Q: How and where do you identify victims of sexual violence?

Leach: Hospitals can request boxes, but since we’re just getting started, I’ve done a lot of the hospital outreach myself. When the survivors arrive, it is up to the medical staff to provide them with the boxes. It has been difficult to do much of this outreach because of the pandemic, but we have provided boxes to six hospitals and victim service providers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We are also working with someone at Rhode Island Hospital who just got funding through a grant to provide more Haven Boxes to survivors.

Q: What are your goals for the year?

Leach: I would like to secure significant funding from local and national grants so that I can maintain the supply of boxes for a year. Last year, nearly 90 sexual assault kits were made in Rhode Island. I want to be able to meet or exceed the number of boxes I can provide to each survivor in Rhode Island who goes to the hospital for a kit. I would also like to build more partnerships so that I can work with hospitals on a regular basis and soon expand to other college advocacy centers.

At some point I would like to start paying myself and my team. For now, it’s entirely voluntary.

Q: Sexual Assault Awareness Month is April. Is Haven Box doing anything to raise awareness?

Leach: We’re featuring our first “Haven Talks” community event at the RiffRaff Bookstore and Bar on April 29 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in Providence. This is an open mic event where we will spotlight survivors of sexual violence, their stories and their journey to healing. Susan Hamin of the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN Speakers Bureau, will also be presenting. The event is free and donations will be collected to support the comfort boxes.

The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are building new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to journalist Alexa Gagosz at [email protected].

Alexa Gagosz can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.

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