By Jay Cook |
FREEHOLD – A one-stop shop to aid domestic violence and sexual abuse victims has opened its doors in Monmouth County and is ready to start changing lives.
180 Turning Lives Around, a nonprofit organization working to halt different types of abuse affecting county residents, will operate a new Family Justice Center out of the county courthouse, located at 71 Monument St.
Before the Family Justice Center, victims in the darkest times of their lives were tasked with navigating the choppy waters of the criminal justice system to seek help, said Anna Diaz-White, 180’s executive director. Now, everything they need is in one place.
“I think it’s going to be a game changer in the way that victims can access services,” she said.
An intake center at the courthouse’s lower level will be the first step, where 180’s staff can ask questions and guide victims in the right direction.
The Family Justice Center is located at 40 Monument St., connected to the courthouse’s parking lot. Different services will be available, Diaz-White said. A lawyer from South Jersey Legal Services is on standby, available to provide legal guidance. Detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office will be on-call from the Freehold office to assist in pressing charges and filing police reports.
The building also provides shelter for victims with children who may fear returning home. Access to local food pantries, counselors and job assessment and training are other services now readily available. The two-story-home-converted center will have no public access and will only be open to people who pass courthouse security.
In Monmouth County, the numbers of abuse victims are significant, said Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni. There were nearly 4,000 calls or reported incidents of domestic violence last year, and family courts in Freehold also heard requests for 1,600 restraining orders from domestic violence victims, he said. Those numbers put Monmouth County sixth-highest in New Jersey.
Diaz-White said her organization receives about 5,000 calls a year and not every incident they hear is reported to police. She said the main demographic for sexual and domestic violence victims is 20- to 40-year-old women. Diaz-White estimated 85 percent of victims in Monmouth County are women.
“We hope that it will stop the traumatization from here on out,” Gramiccioni said. “When somebody comes here, they get direction, they get assistance, they get what they’re entitled to.”
Monmouth County’s Family Justice Center is the fourth such center in New Jersey; others are located in Essex, Morris and Union counties. Diaz-White toured the state with Gramiccioni and elected officials over the past year to find the best solution for Monmouth County.
State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-11), who volunteered as a rape crisis advocate years ago, said the center is a necessity.
“They’re already stressed, they’re already emotionally fragile,” she said of victims. “They don’t need five locations to sort out life and get things moving.”
The building was provided by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders at no cost, said Freeholder Director Lillian G. Burry. It was previously used as the county’s Weights and Measures offices.
“This Family Justice Center will provide both comfort and justice to these victims and their families by offering so many services in one place,” Burry said.
Plans for the center began when 180 was awarded a $145,000 grant last year by Impact 100 Jersey Coast which will contribute to staffing and overhead costs. Grant money was provided by 145 women who each pledged $1,000 for a greater cause.
The new Family Justice Center is another piece of the large footprint 180 has established in Monmouth County. Main administrative offices are located in Hazlet and a secondary location, the Shore Regional Outreach Office, is based in Neptune.
180 also operates a 45-bed safe house and a 10-family transitional housing center in the county, both in different, undisclosed locations. The nonprofit also partners with Amanda’s Easel, a creative arts therapy program in Middletown.
As Hollywood executives, journalists and other prominent people are being called out for their alleged prior sexual assaults, Diaz-White said it spotlights the importance of the Family Justice Center.
“Of course these make headlines,” Diaz-White said, “but for every one of those, there are thousands of women, men and children suffering in silence trying to navigate their and their children’s way out of seemingly impossible situations.”
This article was first published in the Nov. 2-9, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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