Story by: Mark Lord
Several years ago, a young woman was brutally attacked by her husband because their newborn baby would not stop crying. In his rage, he beat her with a hammer and broke her jaw.
One year later, he again lost his temper, upset this time over what he considered an unsatisfactory dinner. So, he stabbed his wife.
Society told the victim to stay with her abusive partner, but following the second incident, she left and found refuge in a domestic violence shelter.
That’s how Susan Jacob, executive director of the Queens Family Justice Center, a walk-in center for victims of gender-based violence, sent home the message that help is, in fact, available.
Jacob’s presentation was part of a four-hour-long panel discussion called “Safety & Protection for Domestic Violence Victims,” sponsored by The Caribbean Voice last Saturday at the Faith Assembly Church in Richmond Hill.
The nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to research, information dissemination and awareness-building related to cases involving gender-based violence, child, elder and sexual abuse, and suicide, was joined by representatives of various groups that work together to help victims cope.
“In our community, many people are not coming forward because they are afraid,” Jacob said. But the story she related had a happy ending.
“This is a huge success story,” she said, indicating that the woman involved is “doing remarkably well.”
She stressed the point that “there is hope out there,” suggesting that “it’s a group effort to eradicate domestic violence.”
All Family Justice Centers, which are part of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, are open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No appointment is necessary. To be connected to immediate safety planning and shelter assistance, call 311 or NYC’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1 (800) 621-4673.
Hosted by Aminta Kilawan-Narine and Neela Pawaroo Naraine, Saturday’s event drew an estimated 50 concerned area residents.
Among the other guest speakers was Enid Ocasio, community coordinator for the NYPD, who focused on safety planning and the role law enforcement plays in protecting victims.
“We’re not always looking to lock people up and throw them in jail. Sometimes that’s not a solution,” she said. The department is more interested in “getting them help, getting them resources,” she said. “We’re creating avenues for individuals to be able to receive resources, to get the assistance that they need.”
Ocasio admitted, however, that “we don’t have enough officers to be able to really tend to the volume of domestic violence in all categories,” including elder abuse, child abuse, intimate partner violence and stalking.
Every NYPD precinct has domestic violence prevention officers and victim advocates who are specially trained to help victims of domestic violence. Visit nyc.gov/nychope for further information, or call 911 for any emergencies.
Offering another perspective was Christine Perumal, director of the Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Law Project, a victims’ advocacy agency that provides free legal consultations to survivors of domestic violence.
Perumal made several legal-related points that might come as a surprise. She cautioned that in domestic violence disputes, “Court is not always the best remedy. Before you decide to go to court, you really should speak to an attorney.
“If you’re in a safe space, I advise you not to go to court, not to file for an order of protection, not to file for child support, maybe not even file for a divorce right now. If you’re in a safe space, your abuser does not have access to you.”
Abusers, she said, “use the court system as a weapon against the survivor. It’s a way for them to see the survivor every couple of months.” It could take years to get through a proceeding, she explained, giving the abuser access to the victim and her children.
“You’re in control of your life when you’re outside of court. Once you step into court, that control is lost,” Perumal said.
She also indicated that “it’s very important that survivors document what they’re going through” and to build their cases. “The more information your lawyer has the better equipped they are to represent you in a divorce action,” she said.
“If you are in a confidential location and you think that you need to file something, do not file in the borough you live in, which would put the abuser on notice to where you live. If you live in one borough, you always file in another borough,” she advised.
She also warned that if you are reaching out to an advocate or attorney, when leaving a message you should “always specify whether the contact information is a safe number of email to reach you on.”
Safe Horizon, the largest victim services nonprofit in the country, may be reached at 1 (800) 621-4673, or via safehorizon.org.