Safer Society: working to prevent sexual and social violence for the past 40 years

Safer Society Foundation staffers pitch in to help combat sexual and social violence. From left: Michelle Schubert, Stephen Zeoli, Sarah Snow Haskell, and David Prescott. Photo by Mat Clouser


BRANDON — For many, walking along the idyllic sidewalks of Park Street feels safe and cozy. The street exudes a nostalgic, wholesome quality—the kind one might find in a Norman Rockwell painting.

Nestled amongst the other homes, the large maple trees, and the radiant gardens is the big white house at 32 Park, with its modest Safer Society sign hanging on the porch. It hardly has the feel of a business, and by the looks of the street, the idea of a ‘safer society’ might seem like it’s already come to fruition.
And yet, anyone who’s dug deeper into Safer Society’s purpose realizes that the work behind the scenes is critical and far from over.

For 40 years, Safer Society has published “leading-edge, evidence-based books for the prevention of sexual and social violence.” Their books focus on aiding both the survivors and the enactors of these forms of violence. Most are workbooks for clinicians and their clients to utilize as part of their rehabilitation and reformation efforts.

“We’re the only publisher that would like to put ourselves out of business,” said Director of Safer Society Press Stephen Zeoli.

Safer Society’s founder, Fay Honey Knopp— Quaker, pacifist, and former Orwell and Shoreham resident —began working as a prison visitor in the 1970s and quickly became convinced that significant changes were needed to the system. In 1975, with backing from the New York State Council of Churches, she founded the Prison Research Education/Action Project (PREAP).

By 1979, most of PREAP’s work had shifted toward society’s responses to sexual violence. Knopp sought a more appropriate response to that violence than, as she wrote, “warehousing the perpetrators in prison, neglecting sexual assault victims, and abdicating our responsibility to prevent such assaults.”

Throughout the 1980s, Knopp published her and others’ work under the Safer Society Press imprint. As PREAP became increasingly focused on sexual violence prevention and treatment, it was decided to replace the PREAP name with Safer Society Press and Program. Following Knopp’s death in 1995, Safer Society separated from the New York State Council of Churches, formed an independent 501(c) non-profit, and relocated to Brandon.

Their original offices and warehouse were destroyed in Tropical Storm Irene, after which they relocated to offices at The Granary for a time before moving onto Park Street about seven years ago.

These days, they also publish “The New Circle” magazine, which they describe as “a free digital magazine that reaches out to all those working with children and adolescents who are at risk across a range of environments, including the community, school, family, and peer group.”

In recent years, Safer Society has expanded its focus into a continuing education center that provides free and accredited online training and webinars. Though the programs began modestly, they are now one of only a few COVID success stories. The push towards telehealth sessions has allowed them to increase the number of event attendees from single digits into the 500-1000 range.

“It has been a great success to help clinicians stay in touch and not feel isolated,” said Zeoli.

Speaking about the treatment process, Director of the Continuing Education Center David Prescott said, “Research shows that punishing people doesn’t actually get them to change, but treatment does.”

“To be clear,” he continued, “it is about holding people accountable. But the question becomes, ‘what’s going to stop them in the future?’ And the answer is treatment.”

For many, it’s easy to demonize those who’ve perpetrated sexual violence, particularly against children. But Prescott says that we can’t lose sight of these people’s humanity and that it is often through a human connection that they can make lasting change.

“We want to help people develop a lifestyle where hurting others is undesirable and unnecessary,” he said, “a lifestyle that is incompatible with offending.”

Prescott pointed to the good lives model (GLM) as a newer clinical development with good results. Essentially, the GLM is a strengths-based approach whose main idea is to minimize the bad people might do by building up the good.

The GLM website,, says the following about their approach: “It assumes that all individuals have similar aspirations and needs and that one of the primary responsibilities of parents, teachers, and the broader community is to help each of us acquire the tools required to make our own way in the world.  Criminal behavior results when individuals lack the internal and external resources necessary to satisfy their values using pro-social means.”

According to Prescott, many of these offenders are often victims themselves. “We learn these violent lessons,” he said. “We learn that our transgressions are okay as long as you don’t get caught.”

He mentioned PTSD via exposure to violence and the related moral injuries that come from experiencing, witnessing, and committing acts of violence as a prevalent factor among the kinds of people he and the clinicians he educates are trying to help.

“What do people do with their pain?” he asked.

Much of the work in the field has been rightfully dedicated to working with survivors, says Prescott, “knowing that not far away people are still perpetuating abuse. But a big part of prevention is working with abusers.”

He cited the societal fear of the “monster” abuser, saying it’s rarer than some might think. “The average convict is only arrested once, he said. “That’s where we come in. Recent studies have shown that the treatment lowers recidivism by 30%.”

Of course, that does not mean that Safer Society isn’t interested in working with survivors.

Since 2017, Safer Society has been running a local program called New Circle Mentoring. The program, which began explicitly for children dealing with the absence of incarcerated parents, now pairs children who’ve dealt with abuse in the home—whether drug abuse or physical or sexual abuse—with guidance from a caring adult.

“Over the past few years, we’ve had 13-15 total kids in Addison County,” said the program’s director, Erika Linskey. “But it’s about quality, not quantity.”

The program requires a minimum three-year commitment from its mentors due to the time needed to build trust with the children. Mentors must be established in the community, be community-minded, possess a great deal of patience, and be able to pass a background check. Experience working with children is essential, but professional experience is not required.

Recruitment efforts are ongoing, and Linksey says a full-on recruiting campaign is forthcoming.

“We’re very careful about whom we choose,” said Linksey. “We want the pairings to be successful.”

“The pandemic has added layers of difficulty,” she continued. “We’re hopeful of expanding into Brandon in the fall of 2022, but the onboarding process for a mentor takes about three months.”

In terms of Safer Society’s broader, ongoing work, Prescott acknowledged that more always needs to be done. “We have a long way to go in terms of evening the balance between resources allocated to offenders vs. survivors,” he said.

As for the crimes themselves, he left very little up for interpretation. “We want to obliterate the crimes,” he said. “But we need to look past the anger and grief to determine a solution. How can I help the abusers get safely back into society?”

Reporter’s note: Anyone interested in becoming a mentor or in learning more about Safer Society’s ongoing efforts, training and webinars can find more information online at

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