NEWBURGH—Two rows of clotheslines hanging with an array of colorful shirts stood behind a group of lawmakers, advocates, and law enforcement as they recognized the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month at Safe Homes of Orange County in Newburgh on Oct. 2
The shirts were decorated with messages from survivors of domestic violence and their loved ones, and next to them, draped over chairs with white and purple roses resting on the seats, were white shirts, each with the year and the name of a woman who died from domestic violence in Orange County. There have been 22 known cases since 2004.
“There are far too many people who still believe that domestic violence is somehow quarantined into certain specific neighborhoods,” said New York Assembly Member James Skoufis, who spoke at the press conference. “That powerful clothesline just points out that domestic violence happens in every single community here in Orange County.”
He commended Safe Homes, a non-profit that started in 1986 to support domestic violence victims, for their 24-hour hotline and the advocates who go out into the community to support victims and spread awareness about the issue.
Although he was not a co-sponsor, Skoufis touted bill A6340 that the Assembly passed this year to close a loophole in the law so that perpetrators of domestic violence cannot lawfully own a firearm.
“I think that’s something 99 percent of people could agree with, regardless of whether you own a gun or not own a gun,” he said.
It is now waiting for approval in the senate.
County Executive Stephen Neuhaus pledged funding for Safe Homes, which is the only domestic violence agency in the county, in his 2016 budget. The county funds a large portion of Safe Homes’ non-residential programming, but this year it stepped in when state funding fell short for the salaries of two advocates who collaborate with Child Protective Services.
“We have an amazing relationship with Child Protective Services and it is probably the most well-oiled machine that’s been in progress since 2009, and to lose that funding, it would have undone all of that work,” said Kellyann Kostyal-Larrier, the executive director of Safe Homes.
Funding is a major issue for Safe Homes. They receive federal, state, county, and grassroots funding, and every year Kostyal-Larrier said it is a fight to maintain it.
“Every single year our non-residential funding is cut at the [state and federal] budget level and every single year we have to advocate to restore that funding,” she said. “We have to stop looking at victim services as something that we might fund, to something we have to fund.”
One of the positive trends she has seen in her six years as executive director is the awareness among lawmakers and law enforcement about domestic violence issues. One of the things the organization does is train people to deal with domestic violence, and she says some of the high-profile cases, such as ones involving NFL players, have helped to start a national conversation about domestic violence.
She thanked the District Attorney’s office for taking misdemeanors seriously, and prosecuting low level offenses to prevent higher level offenses in a program called “Misdemeanors Matter.” District Attorney David Hoovler said the program, which started in 2014, is also meant to intervene so that perpetrators of domestic violence get treatment if they need it.
“It focuses on evidence-based prosecutions, even when victims don’t want to go forward, because our goal at the end of the day is to keep all domestic violence victims safe,” he said.
Kostyal-Larrier hopes this month can be about education and showing people that it is everyone’s responsibility to be educated on it.
“Even if you are a car sales company, where you would say, ‘Well I don’t know what domestic violence has to do with me,’ I would say, if you have employees who are potential victims, what are your policies if an abusive partner shows up here?”
During the month of October, Safe Homes has planned a series of community events to raise awareness about domestic violence, including a display of the Clothesline Project on Oct. 7 at the Galleria Mall and a Paint Port Jervis Purple event on the same day. Purple is the color that has been chosen to raise awareness of domestic violence.
To learn more about Safe Homes and their events, visit safehomesorangecounty.org
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