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Monday, May 9, 2011

Family Justice for Sonoma County

On the Verge of Greatness
Family Justice Center is Launched!

By Laura Colgate, Project Director
Currently a typical victim of family violence has to visit over 23 different locations to receive all the support and legal services currently available in Sonoma County. This scattering of services makes it difficult and discouraging for victims, and exposes them to prolonged jeopardy and increased risk of further violence.

The Family Justice Center Sonoma County (FJCSC) seeks to empower family violence victims to live free from violence and abuse by providing a coordinated community response and wrap-around services to victims through a single access point.

According to District Attorney Jill Ravitch, “The Family Justice Center will empower and strengthen the ability of women, children and elder crime victims to move from being victims to survivors, and then ‘thrivers’ in our community.”

The building at 2755 Mendocino Ave., near the County office complex, was bought last year by the County. Office construction is in progress, even as fundraising continues. The first floor will house Community Based Organizations FJCSC Advocate Staff, DA’s office Victim Assistance Advocates, and on-site partner agencies. The DA’s office of Prosecution, Santa Rosa Police Department Domestic Violence unit, and Sheriff’s Office Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault unit will all be housed on the second floor. Completion is expected later this year.

In advance of physically opening the doors of that location, partner agencies have already enhanced their collaboration and co-location of staff to support family violence victims and their children with comprehensive services. FJCSC Advocate Staff have been working together serving victims in Sonoma County since April, 2010.

For information or to make a contribution to the Family Justice Center of Sonoma County, go to the website at

Why We Need A Family Justice Center:
Two Survivor Stories

Story #1
“People often ask, ‘Why don’t women in an abusive relationship just leave?’ One reason is that we can be in more danger after we leave. My ex-husband threatened to kill me if I ever tried to leave him. I finally did leave, when he was out of the country. However, leaving didn’t make me safe.

A year after my two small children and I left my abusive ex-husband, he broke down the door to my home at 7:00 am in the morning and tried to kill me with a knife and a gun. I fought him with all my strength, but sustained life threatening injuries. My landlord finally stopped him and held a gun on my ex-husband until the police arrived and arrested him. I was taken away in an ambulance, and spent several days in intensive care.

My children who were 4 and 2 at the time were present during the attack. At the time I left my ex-husband there was no safe house in Sonoma County. If there had been a safe place for me to go, then I would not have had to endure this attack and carry the life long scars and my children would not have been traumatized.

“Once the police came and arrested my ex-husband I thought my ordeal was over, but I was wrong. I had never dealt with the criminal justice system and it was a world I didn’t understand.
I thought welfare and social workers was something they had in New York City. I didn’t know where to even begin. Finding the help I needed to deal with the aftermath of my attack was like going on a treasure hunt. I couldn’t just tell about the attack once, and then begin to heal and move forward with my life. With each individual or agency I had to retell my story, which traumatized me over and over again. I would not have made it without the help of family and friends.

“Thankfully, we have a safe house now in Sonoma County. The next step is to have a family justice center so that the resources needed by a family broken by domestic violence are all in one place. The victims will only have to tell their story of the abuse once and will have the support and help to stop the violence and begin the healing. Domestic violence services save lives, and the Family Justice Center will help the families heal and begin new health lives.”

Story #2
“Growing up, my mom only dated abusive men. I remember some pretty horrific fights and when I would tell her as a small child that we need to get away from which ever boyfriend she was getting beat up by. She would explain to me that the person loved us and that she had just done something to upset him. Only having abuse modeled for me, I really truly believed when I started dating if my boyfriend hit me, he loved me and it was just something I had done. I was attracted to the same type of men that my mother was, and oh boy, did I find one. My husband didn’t only beat me but also his three children that he shared with the previous wife.

“I took his abuse for about 5 years and suffered numerous injuries: broken teeth, ribs, face, arm, many stitches, etc. I had no self esteem, courage or strength left. We had a daughter together and one day when Ellie was 4 years old I had an aha! moment. As he was beating me and my daughter was hysterical I saw the cycle. I called 911 and for the first time ever followed through with pressing charges. The case was long and difficult and although the people that were helping us were absolutely wonderful, trying to navigate the county to find services was exhausting. My husband was eventually sentenced to 6 years and 8 months in prison. You would think it would be a relief and a fresh start, but because my husband had been the one supporting us, I didn’t have a job, couldn’t afford the rent and the services stopped because we weren’t in danger anymore. We ended up homeless, on welfare and struggled for several years after that.

“I finally put myself through school and now I work to help women struggling from the same issues I’ve fought through and overcome. My daughter and I are doing well and happy to report we are survivors and the cycle is broken.

“I’m so happy Sonoma County is going to have a Family Justice Center available for victims. You don’t know how difficult and scary it is until you are going through it. When I took my little girl and left my husband, lucky to be alive, I had no idea where to get help or what I needed to do first. It was devastating, embarrassing and overwhelming and on top of all of that trying to navigate the county to find the services and help was exhausting. If the Justice Center existed then I could have gotten referrals for a safe place to stay and counseling, help with filing my restraining order and would have been able to meet with the DA, officers and attorneys all without leaving my daughter. I truly believe this center is going to help victims come forward to help themselves.”