Story By: Justin Schecker
Modeled after the more than 100 centers nationwide that are affiliated with the Family Justice Center Alliance, including one in Bridgeport, the concept of the center is to bring together different existing domestic violence services under one roof.
Beth DeRosa was able to get out of what she says was an abusive relationship, and she is using her experience to help create the new Family Justice Center in New Haven.
“I’m really humbled to bring domestic neglect and mental abuse to the table and have it be recognized,” DeRosa told NBC Connecticut.
DeRosa said she wishes a centralized service center for domestic violence victims had been available when she went through a divorce with her ex-husband of 13 years.
“At the very beginning of the divorce process, I was actually asked by a judge once, he asked me if he ever hit me and I was confused almost by the question,” DeRosa recalled, “and I looked at him, I said I’m sorry, what? Well he said did he ever hit you, I said well no, should I have let him. Well he said ‘because he didn’t hit you, you can live with him.”
But DeRosa said she suffered mental abuse, emotional distress and domestic neglect, and that it was exacerbated during the divorce process, taking its toll on her and her three children.
“Things like PTSD, severe anxiety, mood disorder depression abandonment issues,” she said.
DeRosa is part of a focus group with domestic violence survivors.
“I find it really rewarding because it’s women from all different socio-economic groups,” she said, “different types of violence that they experienced.”
The group is sharing ideas for what they’d like to see at the new Hope Family Justice Center of Greater New Haven.
Retired New Haven Police Captain Julie Johnson is leading the planning for the center.
“As long as they provide services free of charge to victims and clients we will partner with anyone,” Johnson said.
Johnson is a project coordinator for The Umbrella for Domestic Violence Services BHcare. She also spent time with the NHPD Detective Bureau specializing in domestic violence and sexual assault investigations.
Modeled after the more than 100 centers nationwide that are affiliated with the Family Justice Center Alliance, including one in Bridgeport, Johnson said the concept brings together different existing domestic violence services under one roof. Think of it as a “one-stop-shop” for seeking help from police, prosecutors, counselors and victim advocates.
“We are always looking for new ways and innovative ideas to reduce crime and to make victims safer and because of the other Family Justice Centers that have been established, you know, major outcomes have come from having a Family Justice Center in communities,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the new state law giving police more discretion to establish a dominant aggressor when responding to domestic calls should also help keep victims safe.
“Over the course of time you might have a victim who calls the police and they’re also arrested,” she explained, “so that next time they may be weary of calling the police again because they might think if I call the police like last time I might be arrested.”
Three of New Haven’s homicides in 2018 were domestic violence related, NHPD Chief Anthony Campbell said at last month’s crime statistic press conference. He said those homicides highlighted the need for the city to open a Family Justice Center.
Funding has been the biggest obstacle, Johnson said.
“We are moving forward with our fundraising seeking grants and community support,” she said.
A temporary location is open twice a week at New Haven’s opportunity center on Dixwell Avenue.
“Our permanent location we hope to have opened in month or so or at least space designated for renovation in downtown New Haven,” Johnson said.
Johnson explained the reason it is called a “family” justice center.
“Often times its giving services to the whole family, not just the victims and often times the children are witnesses to violence and we know that childhood trauma kind of shows itself often throughout that child’s life,” she said.
DeRosa said her children still receive regular counseling.
“They’re sort of the unspoken victims of any type of abuse,” she said.
DeRosa let her three children know she planned to sit down for an interview with NBC Connecticut.
“We all agreed if we could help one more person, one more family, one more child just anybody than what we went through was not in vain,” DeRosa said.