When people ask Shari Bloomberg if she sees success in her work combating domestic violence, she hesitates. There are no easy solutions, she acknowledged, and few clear-cut victories.
But, for all the challenges and pain she sees, she still insisted, “I love my work.”
The satisfaction, said the new clinical coordinator of the Rachel Coalition, comes from the strength she sees among her clients. “The women I work with are always amazed when I say how strong they are, but I point out to them that it takes tremendous strength to survive in their situations,” she said.
Bloomberg, who worked for a number of years with Jewish Family Service of Central NJ, took on the Rachel Coalition role in June.
The coalition is a division of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. It was established in 1997 in partnership with a range of other Jewish and nonsectarian organizations, with the goal of improving the lives of women and children affected by domestic violence.
These days, its counseling service works with around 100 clients a month. More than half the clients are Jewish. Another 20 to 30 call the 24-hour hotline. At the Family Court in Newark, the coalition’s volunteers, working with Partners for Women and Justice, provide support and referral advice to between 1,400 and 1,600 women a year coming in for restraining order hearings.
“The hiring of Shari Bloomberg signals a new, expanded, and integrated service delivery model for domestic violence and abuse services and, in particular, a recognition of the substantial impact of domestic violence and abuse on children living in high-conflict households,” said JFS MetroWest executive director Reuben Rotman.
Bloomberg has worked in domestic violence for 20 years, first in Baltimore and then with the Elizabeth-based Central Jersey JFS. Her work has earned her a number of awards, including Service Provider of the Year from the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence and an award of recognition from Maryland’s Attorney General’s/Lt. Governor’s Family Violence Council.
Many women, Bloomberg pointed out, might not see themselves as victims of abuse, despite years of misery, because their partners aren’t physically violent. Power and control lie at the root of marital abuse but it can take subtle forms, including social isolation, financial deprivation, or incessant mind games. Learning to recognize and label abuse, she said, creates the necessary opening for change.
In addition to emotional abuse and isolation from her family and friends, a number of her clients struggle with financial hardship — especially after leaving the relationship.
“A woman might have had a high-paying job before she got married, but if she gave it up to look after her children, she might feel she has no way to maintain the standard of living her children are used to,” Bloomberg said.
For those with limited finances, seeking legal help can be a problem. Bloomberg said that at the top of her wish list would be the ability to offer ongoing legal support. Instead, the coalition can link people to all kinds of resources — medical, legal, job-related, housing, etc. — through its network of partner agencies. It also provides individual counseling and support groups for victims and their children.
Bloomberg pointed out that many victims will try to rationalize the abuse by saying their partner has an underlying psychiatric disorder or an issue with substance abuse. Most have neither, and if they do, the abusive behavior is still their choice and a separate issue, she said.
“They can seem like really nice guys to everyone else. That’s how these women get involved with them in the first place,” Bloomberg continued. “If a guy hit a woman on their first date, she wouldn’t go out with him again. By the time the abuse becomes physical, if it ever does, there’s probably tremendous emotional abuse, and that can cause her to rationalize the incident and stay in the relationship.”
About half of the clients who seek help still love their partners and are not necessarily looking to leave. Seeking help doesn’t have to mean ending a marriage, Bloomberg pointed out. But where violence is involved — or could erupt — the coalition counselors help clients shape a safety plan. The organization works closely with other shelters in the region to provide housing options for clients, if needed.
Bloomberg said, “We work with people in all stages of their relationships. Our goal is to ensure that our clients are informed, safe, strong, and aware that they are not causing the violence.”