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Stephen D. Doyle Criminal Justice Symposium Explores Domestic Violence

In domestic abuse, there is a cycle of violence in toxic relationships. It begins as the tension between two partners builds, resulting in incidents of abuse, followed by loving contrition by the abuser. It’s a vicious circle that never seems to end, and one that Shari Genser knew all too well.

As one of the guest speakers at “Understanding Domestic Violence: Its Impact on the Individual and the Community,” the 13th Annual Stephen D. Doyle Criminal Justice Symposium at Saint Peter’s University, on April 17, Genser recalled the final incident of domestic violence she endured before seeking help: “My boyfriend, my lover, my friend, someone who was supposed to care for me more deeply than anyone in the world, shattered a mirror, head-butted me, split my face open, sat me down in the bath tub and said, “If you call the police, I’ll kill you.’”

Students, faculty and University members silently listened to Gesner’s story. Her graphic words filled McIntyre Lounge not with despair, but hope. Gesner, a law school graduate who is an equal justice works fellow for Essex-Newark Legal Services, left her abuser and was able to break the cycle of domestic violence.

In her position as a fellow, Gesner is able to assist those who now face issues of domestic abuse as she once did years ago. Through community education, legal advocacy and outreach with the teenage population in Essex County, she helps individuals with domestic violence and related family law issues. She has also worked as a victim advocate for the Courtroom Advocates Project, where she interviewed domestic violence victims and assisted petitioners with drafting and filing petitions for temporary orders of protection.

“Gesner is an example that this issue happens to all types of people,” said Ana Gonzalez ’13, a criminal justice major who attended the symposium. “It’s a societal problem, and we have to help each other to end this epidemic.”

According to Criminal Justice Professor Hon. Kevin Callahan ’69, the topic of domestic violence was chosen for this year’s conference, because, “In the education process and our Jesuit mission, we have cura personalis, or care for the entire person, which means we are not only concerned about what we are teaching our students in the classroom, but also life lessons that are prevalent within our society, such as bullying, gangs, drugs – and domestic violence.”

He added, “We felt in the department that we should bring in some experts and a victim, and maybe attune our students to the depth of the problems that occur here, that make one person not only be the assaulter, but also live within a violent relationship.”

The symposium also featured Daniel Greenfield, M.D., a forensic psychiatrist, who spoke on “Domestic Violence: Why Put Up with It?”

“Nobody likes being beaten up,” he said. “Nobody likes being abused physically, emotionally and mentally. So why do people put up with it?”

In his presentation, Dr. Greenfield discussed the psychological and psychiatric aspects of the abuser/abused, the epidemiology of domestic violence, the socio-demographic data on abuse and the behavioral aspects on why those who are abused return to their partner. Dr. Greenfield also disclosed that victims of domestic violence often develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other speakers who discussed the laws regarding domestic abuse included Jessica Miles, J.D., of the Seton Hall Family Law Clinic; Debra Simon, J.D., deputy first assistant prosecutor for the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office; Meghan Aileen Hayes, M.S.W., L.S.W., domestic violence specialist for the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office; and Theresa Andrews, Esq., former child support hearing officer.

Because of the Doyle Criminal Justice Symposium, Gonzalez – who plans to attend law school to become a prosecutor – learned a great deal about issues she may possibly face in her future career. She said, “I learned a lot about restraining orders and how they are used to protect a victim from a major consequence. I was also surprised to learn that each state has different laws regarding restraining orders.”

The symposium is sponsored yearly by the department of criminal justice at Saint Peter’s, and addresses a topical and current criminal justice issue. The event is named after Stephen D. Doyle, professor emeritus of sociology at the University.

“It’s important for criminal justice majors to attend the symposium because they are going to become the police officers, the lawyers, probation officers and more, and they will encounter these issues at some point in their career,” said Callahan. “It’s all a part of understanding the overall criminal justice system in this country.”

While it was Gonzalez’s first year attending the Doyle Criminal Justice Symposium, she found it to be extremely helpful to hear from professionals what cannot be taught in textbooks. “This symposium should be held more often, because it gives criminal justice majors and others a first-hand look at what we will face in the future, and it teaches us how we should deal with certain things in our career.”