TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — October is domestic violence awareness month, and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary was in Tampa on Wednesday morning to announce the launch of Safe Space.

It’s an initiative to equip the state’s faith-based leaders with the tools to address domestic violence in their communities.

During challenging times people often seek the comfort and support of their church.

“It shocked me when I started telling my story, how many women in our faith communities are being abused,” said Rev. Michael Neely, Senior Pastor of New Millennium Community Church.

Rev. Neely is a male survivor of domestic violence from his first marriage.

“It’s probably by God’s grace and I’m still alive,” he said. “I could’ve had my life taken at least on three or four different occasions.”

The Department of Children and Families is partnering with community faith leaders, including Rev. Neely, to launch Safe Space to equip them with tools to address domestic violence.

“This program provides faith leaders with 16 hours of training that will support their response efforts when working with domestic violence survivors within their congregation,” said Shevaun Harris, DCF Secretary.

Secretary Harris said these faith leaders who graduated from the program will offer more than just spiritual guidance.

“The advice for a man was the same advice that was given to a female: stay and pray,” said Neely. “That’s bad theology, that’s bad advice. We want to remove stay and pray from our vocabulary and replace it with leave and pray.”

Harris said in the state of Florida in 2020, more than 106,000 domestic violence crimes were reported to law enforcement resulting in over 63,000 arrests.

“Religious organizations are essential to this charge, and distinctly posture to champion efforts to end domestic violence,” said the secretary.

This is another resource available to survivors on top the state’s 41 certified domestic violence shelters.