Yet these are only believed to be a fraction of the cases, as others go unreported for various reasons. In an effort to bring more attention to this epidemic, the Union City Department of Public Safety and Police Department have partnered with Women Rising to host bilingual seminars throughout the city to raise awareness of domestic violence issues and educate the community on the resources available to victims of domestic violence, whether they are female or male.
Women Rising is the state-designated lead agency in Hudson County for domestic violence awareness.
"As director of Public Safety it has always been my priority to address matters that impact the safety of our streets as well as our homes," said Mayor Brian Stack. "It is this commitment that motivated me to launch an awareness campaign to help stop domestic violence, a social ill that traumatizes victims, endangers children, harms families, and threatens communities by crossing gender, religious, ethnic, and economic lines."
What is domestic violence?
According to Margaret Abrahams, coordinator of the Hudson County Domestic Violence Response Team, which operates in nine of the county municipalities under Women Rising, domestic violence is a learned behavior that manifests in various forms, such as physical and verbal, in an effort to gain power and control over another person in any relationship.
"Throughout Hudson County, domestic violence is a huge problem," said Abrahams. "In 2006 the team responded to 223 call outs, but these are only the victims that state they want [the response team]. They have the right to refuse our services."
When police respond to a domestic violence call, a member of the Domestic Violence Response Team is brought in to speak with the victim to help provide them resources and go over her or his options after filing a complaint, such as seeking shelter, information on court proceedings or restraining orders, and safety planning if they have to return to the location of the abuse.
"The Domestic Violence Response Team is a group of volunteers within the community that report to the Police Department when they respond to a call of domestic violence," said Abrahams. "We offer all the resources and options to the victim, go over safety planning, and anything that will help the victim to get to the next step of the empowerment process."
The goal of organizations like Women Rising and seminars of this nature is to educate the community and empower the victim. According to Abrahams, domestic abuse is about power and control and the victims' lives are completely controlled by the batterer.
"We are the listening ear and the advocates," said Abrahams.
The Domestic Violence Response Team was an initiative mandated by the state, which started about three years ago with volunteer members in each county. In Hudson County the response team collaborates and is trained by Women Rising.
"It's regular citizens who want to make a difference in the community," said Abrahams.
However, Union City sorely needs volunteers, especially considering the large amount of reported incidents. In 2006 Union City Police responded to 661 calls of domestic violence.
"They inform victims of their rights," said Lt. Emilio Gonzalez. "They can apply for an order of protection [restraining order], they are able to seek child support, and [can get] monetary support to maintain the home if needed."
Often the victims of domestic abuse are financially dependent on the abuser, which is a way of keeping victims controlled. Another method of control is the threat of reporting the illegal status of a victim, but regardless of immigration status, victims can reach out for help without fear of deportation.
"We have a large problem with domestic violence in Union City primarily because not everyone calls the police," said Lt. William Peer. "They feel they can't get their issues resolved without fear of deportation and many have also been brought up to keep [problems] in-house."
At this time Union City only has two members on the Domestic Violence Response Team.
"We are definitely in need of volunteers," said Abrahams. "We have a total of 48 to 50 volunteers in total in Hudson County."
Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age and are required to go through 40 hours of training, and can apply at their local police department.
The first seminar on Domestic Violence Awareness was held on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at the Jose Marti Middle School at 7 p.m., where Abrahams gave a bilingual presentation, with the help of Stack's Chief of Staff Wendy Martinez, of what domestic violence is, how to recognize it, and how to break the cycle. They also provided materials and pamphlets to take home. Officers and a response team member were also on hand to help and answer questions after the presentation.
During the public comment portion of the seminar, one woman rose out of her seat and said, "I have been married for 29 years and I am a victim of domestic violence, and I can't take it anymore."
Officers and counselors took her aside to get her statements, and will be working with the North Bergen Police Department, where the woman was from, to proceed with the matter.
Others gave testimony of their experiences with domestic violence and how they were able to break free of their abusers.
There were also others who wanted to get involved and help their community.
"I thought the seminar was spectacular," said Mary Naranjo. "I'm even interested in being a volunteer. Although I have never personally lived it, I have seen domestic violence before, including one time with my own tenants."
Additional seminars will be held this month at Washington School, 3905 New York Ave. on Feb. 21, and at the Bruce Walter Recreation Center, located at Fifth Street and West Avenue, on Feb. 28. Both begin at 7 p.m. Jessica Rosero can be reached at jrosero@hudsonreporter .com Sidebars Stats and hotlines
According to the 2005 New Jersey Domestic Violence Statistics, there were 75,651 reported cases of domestic violence, 41 of which ended in homicide. In Hudson County alone there were 4,997 reported cases of domestic violence.
Union City Police encourages victims, families and neighbors to report the domestic violence incidents to their department at (201) 865-1111, or 911 in case of an emergency.
Other local organizations victims can seek help at are Christ Hospital Mental Health (201)795-8373, Northeast Legal Services (201)792-6363, the Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy (201)795-6400, Women Rising Hotline (YWCA) (201)333-5700, and Women's Referral Central (800) 322-8092. - JR Understanding the legal actions
When it comes to incidents of domestic violence, police are there to protect the victim and enforce the law. When police first respond to a report of domestic violence, they establish if the incident meets the criteria. If it does they proceed to take a report and make an arrest, if necessary.
The problem in the past with many of these cases is that the charges end up being dropped by the victim for various reasons.
However, new regulations from the State Attorney Generals Office now allow prosecutors to proceed with charges even if the victim backs out. Once an officer takes down a report documenting the incident, they are also required to take pictures of the victim for any visible injuries.
"You build a case without the victim," said Lt. William Peer. "We will proceed with the assault charges based on what was [documented] at the scene, photos, and evidence."
The idea is to proceed with the case as if it were a homicide, where the victim can no longer speak but investigations continue.
"An officer can also issue a restraining order [on the abuser] if they feel one is needed," said Lt. Emilio Gonzalez. Any restraining order is valid in all 50 states and enforced.
New Jersey state law also allows the victim to make a report in any police precinct in the state even if they are from another town.
"For example if an incident happened in Fort Lee and they make the report in Union City, we take down a CDR or a warrant complaint and fax it to the department in Fort Lee," said Peer.
The same services, including help from a response team member, are also still offered to the victim at the precinct where they made the report. - JR