Women Rising Inc., a non-for-profit organization that teaches about emergency intervention and family violence prevention, has been providing free, confidential, 24-hour support to battered women for over 20 years throughout Hudson County.
A little more than four years ago, the advocacy group began a partnership with the Hoboken Police Department that resulted in the creation of the Domestic Violence Response Team (DVRT), a team of volunteers who are called by police immediately after an attack occurs in order to console a victim and inform them of the options available to them.
The program began in Hoboken in the summer of 2002 and has since spread to nine of the 12 municipalities in Hudson County. Jersey City plans to create a team this year, and only West New York and Weehawken will still lack them.
There are currently 48 volunteers throughout the county, yet only two remain in the Hoboken's DVRT, which at the time of its conception had 13 volunteers.
As a result of the dwindling number, Police Sgt. Corrado Allegretta, the department's liaison to the program, worries that the service could be jeopardized.
"It's a vital resource to have to help the department in dealing with domestic violence," said Allegretta. "When a victim speaks to a cop, the officer has to react to what is said. Having someone there who's neutral gives a level of confidentiality that victims need at a time like that. Right now it's very difficult for the volunteers to continue with such a low number."
How it works
The program works as follows: When police respond to a domestic violence dispute, they beep a member of the response team on call, who responds to the scene and can be escorted by police if necessary.
Each rotation consists of a 12-hour shift, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. During working hours, calls go directly to Women Rising, who can deploy a volunteer to the scene.
Women Rising's DVRT Coordinator Margaret Abrams, who has spent three of her last five years volunteering to help counsel battered women, echoed Allegretta's comments.
"As a volunteer I've been told by victims that if it wasn't for DVRT, they wouldn't have gotten out of the situation," said Abrams. "People are able to open up to volunteers where they wouldn't be able to with police because of that confidentiality."
She added, "Volunteers go into every situation with a non-judgmental, open mind to listen to the victim and provide them with options in how to best handle the situation."
Abrams also mentioned that once the DVRT volunteer makes contact with the victim, the individual is exposed to an array of resources offered through Women Rising, from protection from the attacker for themselves and their family through placement in a shelter, to being provided with a court liaison who will accompany the victim to the trial so that they are not alone.
How to volunteer
In order to become a volunteer with the DVRT, mature women, ages 18 and over, must attend a mandatory 40-hour training session provided through a collaborative effort between the Hoboken Police Department and Women Rising, in which volunteers will be exposed to topics such as victim rights and sensitivity training. The classes will be taught by Abrams and held throughout the county.
The next training session begins this coming Monday, Feb. 26 in Bayonne, where a tentative schedule has been set for Monday and Thursday classes from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with additional sessions planned for every other Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. over the next six weeks.
All recruits must go through a screening process with police that involves a background check before they are able enroll in the class.
Abrams said she is still able to get people into next week's class if there is interest.
After graduating from the course, the volunteer will receive a beeper from police that will be used to reach them when a case of domestic violence is reported. Volunteers can cancel their membership with the DVRT at any point and are invited to return anytime after that.
Women Rising currently provides services to over 2,500 women and families in Hudson County annually through its two centers, one in Jersey City and the other in Bayonne. For more information about Domestic Violence Services, call (201) 333-5700 extension 511 or log onto www.womenrising.org.
To learn more about the DVRT, call the Hoboken Police Department at (201) 420-5119 and ask to speak with Allegretta. Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.