Officials support Family Justice Center concept

The Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County, which has a location in Old Mine Park in Trumbull, held a public policy breakfast last week to explain to community leaders why the region needs a Family Justice Center.

The center is envisioned as a one-stop shop for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, offering all the services they need to become survivors. At the breakfast it was also announced that The Michael Bolton Charities, Inc. is partnering with The Center to make the Family Justice Center a reality.

This will be Connecticut’s first such center, housed in The Center’s headquarters at 753 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport. In addition to the city, it will serve victims in the five other towns The Center helps: Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull.

“The Family Justice Center is all about sharing services under one roof, a community collaboration with police, prosecutors, community-based advocates and social services,” said keynote speaker Judy Stevens, the senior assistant state’s attorney with the Domestic Violence Unit, and head of the justice center’s steering committee. “Victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault will no longer have to go from agency to agency repeatedly telling their story since all their needs will be met in one place. The frustration of dealing with the current system often causes the abused to give up in fear and frustration, recanting the facts and often returning to the abuser.”

In addition, the justice center will offer victims advocacy, shelter placement, case management, counseling, safety, education and employment planning, emotional support and childcare when receiving services. The Center’s model is based on the first Family Justice Center that opened in San Diego, Calif. in 2002. Documented outcomes in the center’s model include: Reduced homicides; increased community support services; increased victim safety; increased autonomy and empowerment for victims; reduced fear and anxiety for victims and their children; reduced

recantation and minimization by victims; increased prosecution of offenders; and reduced costs because of co-location/streamlining the process.

The Bolton Charities has been instrumental in creating such center’s in New York City, according to Michael Bolton, the charity’s founder.

“The Family Justice Center has proven to be a life saver for victims of family violence and their children, helping to break the cycle of violence by streamlining the process of providing services under one roof,” said Bolton. “I believe that violence against women and children is not a private issue. It is a human rights violation and should be treated as such. Domestic violence damages families and communities. The Family Justice Center approach can protect the rights of women and children by providing a safe place."

Center CEO Debra Greenwood said The Center has always offered crises services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

“Through the FJC, The Center will be able to expand services to make survivors’ stronger, self-sufficient and no longer dependent on their abuser,” Greenwood said. “Survivors will have the resources to help them and their children live better lives without financial, verbal, emotional and physical/sexual abuse.”

Approximately one-third of the criminal cases in the court system in Connecticut involve family violence. Nationwide it is estimated that only 25 percent of domestic abuse are reported to police.

“This is an overwhelming problem that is not going to go away without considerable effort to stay ahead of it,” Stevens said. “Thirteen years ago, the first domestic violence docket was instituted in Bridgeport. Connecticut has taken the problem seriously. We now have the training and knowledge from these efforts and it is clear that the next logical step in this struggle is a Family Justice Center.”