ELIZABETH, NJ — A new center in Elizabeth will streamline services for domestic violence victims throughout the county, helping them to navigate prosecution of their attackers or remove them from an abusive situation.
The Family Justice Center, located in the newly constructed Union County Courthouse Cherry Street Annex, which opened Wednesday, Sept. 13, centralizes counseling, legal and social services for victims and will be managed by the Union County YWCA.
“We’re providing a central place for victims to come and get the help they need,” Union County YWCA CEO Janice C. Lilien said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center. “This model is designed to reduce the barriers and fragmentation of these distant services.”
Victims can obtain referrals for medical care, mental health, housing, employment, immigration and other services. In addition, Central Jersey Legal Services Partners for Women and Justice, Puerto Rican Organization for Community Education and Economic Development, the Domestic Violence Unit of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and Office of Victim/Witness Advocacy will be on site.
One in three women and one in every seven men will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, Lilien said.
This year so far, 3,159 temporary restraining orders have been issued, averaging at more than 300 per month, Union County Sheriff Joseph Cryan said at the ceremony. Of those, about 1,600 have been served, he added.
Nearly 20 percent of homicides in Union County in the last five years were related to domestic violence, according to the county prosecutor’s office. In several of those cases, victims had obtained temporary restraining orders from their killers.
Former acting Prosecutor Grace H. Park, whose last day in that job coincided with opening of the center, remembered several victims who had died in cases related to domestic violence: April Wyckoff, who Cryan recalled hearing in court the 9-1-1 call she made to dispatch before she was allegedly murdered by her then-boyfriend; and Anishalee Cortes, who was reportedly shot dead in Roselle last June by the same man against whom she had a restraining order.
Superior Court Assistant Judge Karen Cassidy said victims often drop domestic violence cases since they’re economically tied to their abusers.
“Sometimes you’ll hear from those victims, ‘Well I have no place to go. If I go through with this I can’t go back to my house. I don’t have any means to support; my family, my spouse is the one who supports us,’” Cassidy said. “So they have an economic reason to drop it.”
Meanwhile, domestic violence-related homicides have decreased by 95 percent in areas where FJCs are present, according to the San Diego-based Family Justice Center Alliance.
There are more than 75 Family Justice Centers in the United States and three in the New Jersey. The Essex County FJC opened in 2010, and another opened in Morris County last year.
Union County contracted with the YWCA for $153,749 in June to operate the facility, and furnishings for the center amounted to $175,000, according to freeholder ordinances.
There are several other resources in the county available to victims of abuse, Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen said at the ceremony. The Rape Crisis Center offers free accompaniment to hospitals, police departments and court by certified Confidential Sexual Violence Advocates, and the Child Advocacy Center offers services to victims of child abuse and sex crimes.
The Rape Crisis Center can be reached at its 24-hour hotline at 908-233-7273, while the Child Advocacy Center, located at 242 W. Jersey St. in Elizabeth, can be reached at 908-965-3890.
To learn more about the services at the Union County Family Justice Center, located at 2 Cherry St. in Elizabeth, call 908-527-4980.