“Survivors have been some of the bravest women that I know,” said Joaneileen Coughlan, director of domestic violence services for WomenRising, speaking to over 20 individuals gathered for the group’s annual candlelight vigil in Jersey City on Oct. 17. The event was held in recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“Tonight we mourn the victims of domestic violence – the girl I was, and thought I would be,” said Hoboken resident Tatiana Petersen to an audience comprised mostly of women. “Tonight we celebrate the survivors, and the woman I have become, because of my community and organizations like WomenRising. I thank the officers who answered my call regardless of whether I was ready to leave. I thank them for being there when I did leave. I am a domestic violence survivor.”
Awareness of domestic violence
Recent domestic violence cases in Hudson County have made headlines and shaken up communities. Last month a man in Secaucus was charged with attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a woman repeatedly, and a Jersey City husband was arrested after his missing wife’s body was found in the family’s basement.
“Define your destination and create your happiness. You have the power to walk away.” – Tatiana Petersen
Events like the candlelight vigil at WomenRising not only serve as a reminder of the reality of domestic violence but also as a vehicle of self-expression for survivors and as a resource for victims that seek help.
Petersen said it had been 10 years since she escaped the cycle of violence with the help of her local woman’s shelter, which aided her in creating a safety plan.
Members of the audience were noticeably moved by Petersen’s words as she read from her poetry. Petersen said that despite her husband’s attempts at silencing her by strangling her, she used writing “as a tool to escape what I was experiencing.”
“Define your destination and create your happiness. You have the power to walk away,” said Petersen.
Megan Gulczynski, attorney with Northeast New Jersey Legal Services, spoke about services available to low-income individuals for obtaining a restraining order. She said victims are expected to provide their own justification and her office helps them prepare their testimony free of charge.
Kearny Sgt. John Manley, who spoke about the role of police officers, noted that there has been an increase in domestic violence over the last several years. Studies indicate there was a 7 percent rise in domestic violence incidents in New Jersey in the first half of 2010, compared to the same period in 2009.
“It is a cycle where we deal with the same families a lot,” said Manley. “The victim goes through the process sometimes seven, eight, or nine times.”
Manley said Hudson County domestic violence liaison officers from all 12 Hudson County municipalities meet regularly and work together as a group to address what types of training their personnel need.
“We speak about the various cases in our municipalities and we also speak about training issues,” said Manley. Officers will also discuss how cases were handled in other towns noted Manley.
Domestic Violence Response Team
Each Hudson County municipality has a Domestic Violence Response Team (DVRT) as mandated by the state. Officers call on the DVRT members to meet with victims at police headquarters. DVRT members provide victims with information about domestic violence and available support groups. Members also provide details about formulating a safety plan and understanding a temporary restraining order or TRO. Volunteers are fully trained and confidentiality is strictly adhered to.
Manley said all municipalities meet regularly with their DVRT members and WomenRising.
WomenRising is the state-designated lead agency in the county for domestic violence. The organization’s programs include 24-hour, seven day a week domestic violence services that include interventions, intensive counseling and support services for the women and children. The organization also has a court liaison to advise and advocate for battered women within the court system.
The 24-hour hotline number is (201) 333-5700. Individuals can dial Ext. 511 but should get a receptionist or hotline worker when calling the general number. The Reporter called multiple times during an afternoon and no one answered the hotline even after 20 minutes of ringing. No voicemail picked up.
“Never has it gone where [the hotline is] unanswered,” said Margaret Abrams, domestic violence response team coordinator. “I’m concerned that there may be something wrong with the phone line.”
Abrams said the staff were all off-site for training with the exception of one or two people that were supposed to be handling the phones. She said the receptionist could have been on an emergency client call that may have lasted up to 30 minutes. She said there are instances in the evenings when the resident assistant attends to a client in the shelter when the hotline goes to voicemail, but those calls should be returned.
The agency is looking for volunteers to help staff the phones. Volunteers will require training like DVRT members.
If men call the hotline WomenRising assists them with resources and one-on-one counseling but cannot house them. The agency works with men who need assistance finding a place to stay but Abrams said that even though they frequently get calls from men, they typically don’t require a place to stay.
“The male victims usually have places to go,” said Abrams.
The state domestic violence hotline is: (800) 572-SAFE (7233).
In case of a domestic escalating emergency, an individual should call 911.
But if a woman is planning on leaving, WomenRising can help them develop a safety plan and help them prepare to leave.
The Secaucus DVRT is on a rotating schedule and is on call from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday and 24 hours on weekends. The group collects needed items for women and families of domestic violence such as toiletries for the shelter, toys, coats, and clothing. Volunteers are welcome to join the team by calling (201) 333-5700.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.