It is hoped that within the next two months, whenever the police department is called for a domestic violence dispute, a trained volunteer counselor will also respond to the scene.
This volunteer response is being implemented through a state-mandated program called the Domestic Violence Response Team.
Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Lisa Caudullo said that the state mandated that every municipality either implement their own team of volunteers or work with a county-wide team to assist domestic violence victims.
The purpose of the program is to empower victims with the information and emotional support services needed to make informed decisions.
According to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, the program is being implemented on a staggered basis in Hudson County, with Hoboken being one of the first departments to have an operating volunteer unit. Hoboken recently graduated 13 volunteers for their crisis team. These volunteers began active duty on Aug. 5.
The team will be on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day. According to Joan Eileen Cunning of WomenRising Inc. in Jersey City, the organization that trains the volunteers, the volunteers are only called to the police station if a victim files a complaint or requests a restraining order against their aggressor.
Other Hudson County municipalities currently in the training stages of the program are East Newark, Kearny and Harrison.
But some have had trouble getting volunteers.
"We haven't received any response," said West New York Police Director Joseph Pelliccio.
According to representatives of the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, many domestic violence victims drop charges because they did not have the proper support system between the time of the assault and their court date.
"The counselors will also help the victims with the court process," said West New York Sergeant Brian Fava. "This way, the victims won't get scared their first time in a court room."
Caudullo explained that prior to implementing this program, many victims already came to court with their minds made up that they were not going to cooperate with the prosecution.
"By having someone to speak to, the victim is provided emotional support and information about the court process," said Caudullo.
"This counseling will help the victim become a better witness and realize the danger of the situation she is in," said Caudullo. "Many times, the victim is the key witness in a domestic violence case."
Each volunteer undergoes a 40-hour training program before actively volunteering on cases. WomenRising Inc, of Jersey City provides the training and supervision for all volunteers. WomenRising is a not-for-profit organization that has provided family violence prevention, education, and training emergency intervention services in Hudson County for 25 years.
"Some of these [victims] sit in the police station for hours on end," said Cunning. "This program will allow that time to be utilized and to tell the [victims] that there are services out there and that they can help them now."
Fava said that these counselors will help the victims find shelter, learn their legal rights and provide emotional support.
"These counselors will provide whatever their immediate needs may be," said Fava. "These victims do need counseling. Domestic violence is a whole cycle of violence."
Each volunteer undergoes a criminal history screening process before entering a 40-hour training program.
How to help
According to the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, 77,680 domestic violence offenses were reported in New Jersey in 2001, the year for which statistics are most currently available.
Overall, females were victims in 78 percent of all domestic violence offenses. Wives were the victims in 23 percent of reported domestic violence offenses, and domestic violence arising from a dating relationship accounted for 13 percent of the state total. Children were involved or present during 39 percent of all domestic violence offenses occurring statewide in 2000.
The Hudson County Prosecutor's Office also has a Domestic Violence Working group that consists of one officer from each department in Hudson County. Fava, who is the member representing West New York on this group, said that the group meets once a month to discuss issues in domestic violence.
To volunteer for this program, contact your local police department. To volunteer for West New York's response team, call Fava at (201) 295-5042. The Union City police Department is also looking for volunteers. To volunteer for the Union City response team, call the Police Chief's Office at (201) 348-5780.