Portland nonprofit aims to empower victims overseas

Nearly 15,000 Americans in 87 different countries reached out to Portland-based nonprofit Pathways to Safety International for help last year

PORTLAND, Ore. — Whether you are packing for an international vacation, a study abroad program or an overseas work assignment, there is a lot to prepare for.

You have to think about different currencies and languages, but what about the laws? What do you do if you are sexually assaulted or trapped by domestic violence?

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Many of the 80 million Americans who travel abroad each year and the nine million who live overseas probably don’t give it much thought, until it happens. Then many will turn to Pathways to Safety International, a Portland-based nonprofit.

The company was founded in 1999 by Paula Lucas, a domestic-violence survivor who fled the Middle East with her three sons.

"I thought, 'How in the world did I end up in this situation?' " Lucas said, "I never would have envisioned this for myself. I escaped by the grace of God and I wanted to give back."

In 2017, nearly 15,000 Americans in 87 different countries reached out to Pathways for help. Case workers say clients range from an 18-year-old study abroad student to a 45-year-old man traveling overseas on business.

Operations manager Noelle Donahue said typical client questions include where they can go to get a rape kit or forensic exam and what will happen if they choose to go to the police.

Pathways to Safety International helps those survivors every step of the way, offering everything from translation services to legal help and counseling.

As the “Me Too” movement grows, Lucas said she imagines her organization growing too. "I envision it much bigger than what we have today," she said.

That growth, however, has hit a major hurdle. Recently the Department of Justice renewed funding to help domestic-violence survivors, but cut $800,000 in support for the sexual assault assistance program.

Lucas said she is now looking to partner with businesses and universities to keep the program going.