In a response to the ongoing growth of domestic violence cases in Staten Island, one new center has opened its doors in hopes of becoming the beacon of light for individuals going through dark times and who are looking to reclaim control of their lives.
First Lady Chirlane McCray cut the ribbon and officially opened the Staten Island Family Justice Center on Wednesday, making it the fifth help center in the city and ensuring that victims and survivors of domestic violence, elder abuse and sex trafficking have a place to go and get help in every borough.
The first justice center opened up in Brooklyn over a decade ago and each center offers multilingual services to victims and survivors including safety and legal assistance.
According to officials, the Staten Island center, located at 126 Stuyvesant Place, comes at a crucial time when the borough is facing an increase in domestic violence cases. Between 2010 and 2014 there has been a 64 percent increase in domestic violence victims — the highest increase of any other borough.
“Staten Island’s growing rate of domestic violence is something that we should all be concerned of, and clearly we are, because it goes to the true measure of the health of our community and the city if our citizens can’t and don’t feel safe in their own homes,” said Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon.
The first lady took a tour of the 10,000-square-foot center — which is expected to receive an estimated 3,000 client visits in the first year — on Wednesday along with city officials and center representatives.
The site is based on the nationwide model which means that through one visit victims are able to meet with a prosecutor; receive legal advice on topics such as immigration, divorce or orders of protection; learn about job opportunities and also apply for emergency housing. All these services are offered to individuals in a comfortable and private environment, while children are being taken care of in a playroom onsite.
“The real beauty of this building goes much deeper than its walls and its windows, the beauty is rooted in the work that is being done here,” McCray said. “Family justice centers are exactly what their names suggest, once central place where clients can make things right again, a place where they can restore balance to their life.”
During Wednesday’s tour, McCray was also joined by Anastasia Martin, a domestic violence survivor who first sought out help last year at the Brooklyn Family Justice Center.
“I am happy for the people who live in Staten Island, that they have this center available for them and I hope people won’t be ashamed or even scared to look for help,” Martin said. “I really don’t want other women to go through what I was going through especially when you have so many questions and so many fears.”
Martin moved to New York City from Russia about six years ago and married a man she had met at her church who shortly after began to restrict her and would give her orders.
According to McCray, Martin began to fear her husband and decided to turn to her local pastor for help. However, instead of helping, the pastor took her husband’s side and began to blame Martin.
The Brooklyn resident then decided to visit her borough’s family justice center and with the support she received was able to get her husband out of her life.
Martin is now going back to school and pursuing a career in social justice and she is sharing her story in hopes of getting other women and men to build up the courage to seek help.
“Don’t be afraid, they’re people that are going to listen to you, they’re not going to judge you, they’re going to help you,” Martin said about advice she would give other victims. “It’s really great to know that somebody else is understanding about what is going on with you, what is going on in life.”
Martin added that she wanted to thank all the people who supported her at the center and helped her moved forward.
Staten Island’s new center is located close to court building and the district attorney has co-located assistant district attorneys from the Domestic Violence Bureau to the site. City and state agencies, and community-based organizations have also teamed up to have offices at the location.
“We know that domestic violence can affect anyone and that abuse comes in various forms,” said Herminia Palacio, Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services. “By putting all these services together under one roof, the family justice center will be able to help all people get the support that they need.”
All city justice centers are opened Monday though Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and New Yorkers cans also call 311 get more information.