Story by: Bérénice Magistretti
Whether self-imposed or mandatory, quarantine has forced us to restructure our lives, both professionally and personally. For victims of domestic abuse, however, the consequences of confinement are far worse than having to readjust to a new reality as they are locked in with their abusers. In the U.S., 1 in 3 women will experience intimate violence in their lifetime, making it the most widespread, but among the least reported, human rights abuses, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Covid didn’t cause survivors to be trapped,” said FreeFrom founder and CEO Sonya Passi, in an interview. “They were already trapped.”
The Los Angeles-based activist refers to the financial imprisonment 99% of abusers face in their relationship.
“Most victims stay in abusive situations because they can’t afford to leave,” Passi said. “And they return an average of 7 times because they don’t have the financial means to stay safe.”
Investing In Survivors
Passi launched FreeFrom in late 2016 to financially empower victims of domestic violence. Since then, the nonprofit has assisted survivors on several levels, from helping them get a job to building credit in order to rent a place of their own. But Passi wanted to take her project one step further to address the structural and societal flaws in the system.
“The way to end domestic violence is to invest in survivors,” she said.
This resulted in an entrepreneurship program for survivors of domestic abuse to help them build and sustain their own businesses.
“A 9-to-5 job doesn’t take into account the struggles a single parent has to face between childcare, court dates, apartment hunting…” Passi said. “So many survivors lose their jobs because of the lack of employer flexibility.”
This entrepreneurship program evolved into Gifted by FreeFrom, a social enterprise that sells products handmade by survivors. Themes like “New Beginnings”, “Gratitude” and “Self Love” inspire gift boxes filled with natural beauty products like soaps, salts and candles. With the pandemic hitting, Gifted decided to help by making Covid care packages, which include two cotton face masks with sewn-in filters, one moisturizing hand sanitizer with 71% alcohol, one immunity boosting essential oil blend and one moisturizing soap bar.
Covid Care Packages
Passi says that since launching the Covid care packages end of April, they’ve sold 430 Covid kits, 5,000 hand sanitizers and 700 kids masks.
“In addition, folks are buying our other care packages as gifts for family and friends,” she said. “In April, we had 1,075 orders on the site, up from 175 in March.”
Gifted’s revenue model is very straightforward (gift boxes cost between $45 to $70): 70% of the cost of the box goes directly to the survivor entrepreneurs who handmade the products inside; 15% is used to employ survivors of domestic violence for a living wage of $20 per hour to handle logistics; and 10% supports more survivor entrepreneurs in building financial security and long-term safety.
One such survivor entrepreneur is Indian Tyler, who benefited from FreeFrom’s entrepreneurship program and is today the proud owner of PACT Bodycare — a full spectrum line of fine bath and body essentials, which she founded.
“One of the greatest things FreeFrom did for me was the mentorship, coaching, resources and sense of community, which caused me to believe in myself again when I had a really hard time finding my way,” Tyler wrote to me in an email. “Any type of trauma is potentially paralyzing. FreeFrom helped me awaken from a career coma.”
Another Gifted entrepreneur is Chrissy Collins, a 39-year-old Administrative Assistant at FreeFrom who also makes and sells essential oil blends through her brand Ithiaely.
“I found out about FreeFrom when I was living in a domestic violence shelter,” Collins wrote to me in an email. “Sonya came to my shelter to introduce her entrepreneurship program for survivors of domestic violence and gave us a form, like some kind of self assessment. The first question on that form was ‘What are you good at?’ I will never forget how hard I cried when I read that question.”
And this is where FreeFrom’s approach is truly unique: the nonprofit doesn’t treat survivors like victims; it empowers them by addressing them as human beings who have something to offer.