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Agency trains domestic violence responders
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Agency trains domestic violence responders

Volunteers learn how to speak with victims at police stations

Suzanne Groisser, coordinator of legal services at the Rachel Coalition, left, and Sara Mendez Emma, clinical coordinator of child and adolescent services at Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, instruct a class of volunteers training to become members of
Suzanne Groisser, coordinator of legal services at the Rachel Coalition, left, and Sara Mendez Emma, clinical coordinator of child and adolescent services at Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, instruct a class of volunteers training to become members of

During a PowerPoint presentation at Bnai Keshet in Montclair, a child’s panicked voice is heard on a 9-1-1 call.

“My mommy and daddy are having a fight,” screams the child. “Daddy. Mommy. Stop it. Oh, my God.”

“What’s the matter?” asks the operator.

The conversation goes silent, replaced by a dial tone. Next comes a series of images of troubling artwork created by children who live with the daily effects of family violence. They include a 12-year-old boy’s drawing of a highway that “goes nowhere and…has been nowhere,” as he explains to an art therapist.

These are a few of the graphic words and pictures presented to a group of 60 Essex County residents at a March 31 training workshop led by the Rachel Coalition. Participants are training one night a week between March 10 and June 9 to become members of local police departments’ Domestic Violence Response Teams. 

“They will be called to come to police stations to speak with victims of domestic violence, be supportive, and explain what their legal rights are in terms of safety and acquiring restraining orders against violent spouses,” Suzanne Groisser, the Rachel Coalition’s coordinator of legal services, explained during a break in the training session.

Other volunteers will become court advocates in the Essex County Family Court, where they will make the victims aware of their legal rights and provide them with moral support.

The coalition, a division of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest — itself a partner agency of Jewish Federation of Greater Metro West NJ — addresses the needs of victims of domestic violence and their families. It trains volunteers of all races and faiths in domestic violence response. 

“Victims of domestic violence feel very much alone and very much in crisis when an incident happens,” Groisser said. “If someone shows support immediately or within the first few days of an incident, the victim will know that she is not alone. She will know there are people out there ready to help. We think this will make people’s lives healthier and can save lives.

“We think this program will be very successful.”

The trainees were presented with a graphic picture of the lives of children who are exposed to domestic violence, but they will not be instructed in the specialized skills needed to counsel victims. 

“It is very important that only people who are extremely trained in working with children work with children,” said Groisser. “They have to be professionals, but we want the volunteers to understand the whole picture.” 

Instead, volunteers will meet with victims during a confidential, anonymous session at police headquarters, providing educational resources and emotional support. The state mandated the DVRT program in 2000, but, according to Groisser, “this is the first time in about seven years that Essex County residents have been given such training.” It comes through a subcontract to the Rachel Coalition awarded last May by Safe House — one of the agencies playing a major role in the fight against domestic violence in Essex County.

Sara Mendez Emma, clinical coordinator of child and adolescent services at JFS MetroWest, led the class discussion.

“When we talk about these kids, a lot of emotions come up,” she told participants. “Even in the womb a child is being exposed to abuse against his or her mother through yelling, screaming, stress, violence. All those things can happen when a baby is in the womb.” 

All too often, even when they are too young to intervene forcefully, “sometimes children get involved to try to stop the violence. Sometimes they become pawns in a struggle between two parents,” she said.

Emma, a social worker, said, “Moms say to me on a daily basis, ‘The kids didn’t hear it. They were upstairs in their bedrooms.’

“But they know,” she continued. “These kids are so smart. It can be denial by the moms who don’t want their kids to know, but upstairs there are usually children cowering under blankets or under their beds. They are scared and worried. But they hear it. I promise you, they hear it.”

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