Guarini Institute Panel Discusses Domestic Violence

The Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership at Saint Peter’s University recently hosted an empowerment forum, “Women Standing Against Domestic Violence.”

Sadly, domestic violence is an issue in our community and the effects run deep. Domestic violence is often referred to as “the secret epidemic” – it is not given enough attention and preventative measures are scarce. The statistics shared at the event were staggering: every nine seconds a women is beaten or assaulted; one in four women will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes; three women are murdered in the U.S. every day by a current or former male partner; according to the American Psychological Association, women with disabilities are 40 percent more likely to experience domestic violence; and 18 million mental health care visits are from women in domestic violence relationships each year.

As part of the event, keynote speakers shared their deeply personal stories. Esther Suarez, Hudson County prosecutor and Senator Sandra Cunningham advised the audience followed by a real-life domestic abuse story. Cathy DeFazio McBride approached the podium in tears and described her struggle with domestic violence. She explained the cycle of abuse in her situation: everything appeared normal to her friends and family, the bills were paid, there was food on the table. He would abuse her and then come back and apologize profusely, leading to what the panelists described as “the honeymoon stage.”

She thought that the abuse did not affect her children and if the attention was on her, then they would be fine. Looking back on her situation, she knows they were affected. She also explained that she felt guilt and shame about her situation so she did not tell anyone. Ultimately, she was afraid she could not live without him financially.

“This man fractured my jaw, but I still felt like I needed to protect him. I still loved him,” she said of the vicious cycle of abuse. She was eventually able to overcome her situation.

After McBride spoke, there was a panel discussion featuring Margaret Abrams, from WomenRising; Beth Adubato, Ph.D., assistant professor of criminal justice at Saint Peter’s; Pamela Johnson, executive director of Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement and domestic abuse survivor; Najma Rana, assistant prosecutor in Hudson County; Bertha Reels from Sarah’s Daughters; and Sarah Davis from the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women. Leila Sadeghi, Ph.D., executive director of the Guarini Institute, served as moderator of the panel.

WomenRising is an organization in Jersey City that supports women and families from crisis to self-sufficiency. They provide domestic violence services, permanent housing, workforce development and youth and family services. Abrams, from WomenRising emphasized that domestic violence is a learned behavior and the organization, which has served over 9,500 clients last year, reaches out to young women to help them understand the characteristics of a healthy relationship.

Dr. Adubato has done significant research related to domestic violence. “When we say it is a private issue, all we are saying is ‘it’s just about women, don’t worry about it,’” said Adubato, remarking on the scarcity of resources available to women in domestic violence situations.

Johnson, who is a survivor herself urged the audience and panelists to stop asking “why did you stay?” “Our business is to help and not ask why,” she stated. Johnson’s organization, Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement helps to rally for victims.

Rana shared insights into the legal repercussions of domestic violence. Her advice to those in domestic violence situations is to get a temporary restraining order, she emphasized that there is now legislature for cyber harassment as well. She encourages women to report abuse no matter what. “Everyone has a past. Everyone has done things in their past. It does not give anyone a right to abuse them,” said Rana.

Reels and Davis both focus on the healing process. At Sarah’s Daughters, Reels teaches women that they are awesome and they can do anything. Davis explained that a lot of what they do at the prison relates to recovery. Tamika McReynolds from the Jersey City Department of Recreation closed out the event.

“I think one of the most important takeaways from the event was to build awareness that domestic violence occurs among all ethnicities, ages, faiths, education levels and income levels. We had a very diverse audience consisting of students, community members, advocates, and government officials,” said Dr. Sadeghi.

The Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership at Saint Peter’s University is a non-partisan vehicle that drives public policy discussion of some of the state’s most critical issues. The events are free and open to the public. To learn more about The Guarini Institute or to view a list of upcoming events, click here.