According to statistics from Sanctuary for Families, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking, one out of every four women in their lifetime are likely to experience psychological, sexual, physical or financial abuse.
Beth Silverman, clinical director at Sanctuary for Families, said that while many women are abused, the types of abuse often go unrecognized.
“When I say the statistics, one in four, that means we all know somebody,” Silverman said. “The majority of clients who come to us have prolonged scars from psychological abuse. How many years can you live with someone who calls you a worthless piece of...you fill in the blank.”
This was the point Silverman stressed at the 112th Precinct meeting last week in Forest Hills, reminding the community that centers like this are there to help.
“Financial abuse is something not a lot of people are even aware of,” Silverman explained. “Also the elderly, in the context of family abuse, lots of older people are also subjected to abuse. When they are older and frail, often their caretakers or family members who are stressed out can be abusive.”
While she said 85 percent of abuse is men against women, Silverman explained that men are also victims of domestic abuse as well.
“All abuse goes under-reported, so I am sure given the norms in our society for what it is to be macho and what it is to be men, it is very difficult for men to in fact report that they are victims,” she said. “It’s also under-reported in the gay and lesbian community.”
Silverman also reported that 25 to 30 percent of the LGBT community are victims of abuse as well.
“There is no excuse for abuse,” she said.
Today, Sanctuary for Families has around 25 lawyers on staff to focus on these cases and offers clinical counseling for children.
“We know that in 40 to 60 percent of cases of domestic violence there is probably child abuse, and 40 to 60 percent of child abuse there is domestic violence,” Silverman said.
Keshia Espinal, assistant district attorney for the Queens County District Attorney’s office, explained there can often be an upwards of 10 confrontations before anything is ever reported to authorities.
“The only way we know that a domestic violence crime has occurred is if they call 911,” Espinal said. “In most cases, it’s a child who finds their father is abusing their mom, and most of the times you hear the crimes actually occurring at the same time the child is calling.”
While taking matters to a local police precinct can be uncomfortable, Espinal explained that Family Justice Centers in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx are available for women seeking help from an abusive relationship and also provide the same assistance.
“They can speak with us there without letting anybody know they are talking to the D.A.,” she explained.
In an effort to prevent repeated abuse, the center will often find programs for the abuser, such as alcohol, substance abuse and gambling addiction counseling, as part of the plea.
“A lot of times we do issue limited orders of protection, allowing the couple to get back together with provisions,” she said. “If there is a program out there to help the individual, find it and we can mandate as part of the plea.”
Plea bargains are then followed up on by the D.A. and monitored for several years with jail time as a consequence of breaking the bargain.
Councilman and Queens borough president candidate Peter Vallone, Jr. was also at the 112th Precinct last week to discuss violence against women.
He outlined his plans to develop a “Wall of Shame.” a proposal to combat sexual abuse against women by working with the Metropolitan Transit Authority to post pictures of subway gropers convicted of sexual molestation.
“D.A. Dan Donovan does that in Staten Island around Christmas,” Vallone said. “He puts up pictures of people that shoplift at Staten Island Mall. It works. It will shame them.”