Connecticut’s First Family Justice Center is closer to becoming a reality

By Debra Greenwood and Judy Stevens

Connecticut Post OpEd piece, February 2013 – Each year, law enforcement agencies respond to alarming incidents of domestic violence. Approximately one-third of the criminal cases in the court system in Connecticut involve family violence. The prevalence of family violence is even more alarming if you consider that experts estimate only 25 percent of such cases are actually reported. 

For decades, The Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County has helped victims of domestic and sexual assault become survivors. But we also recognize that most criminal and civil justice systems make it difficult for victims to seek help and unintentionally wear them down. Victims are often required to travel from location to location to seek services that are scattered throughout our community.

Today, more than ever, Fairfield County needs a Family Justice Center, and The Center plans to transition into one during the next two years. An FJC is a one-stop shop for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, offering all the services they need to become survivors. All services – police officers, prosecutors, civil legal services providers, community-based advocates – will be housed under one roof, in The Center’s headquarters in downtown Bridgeport. In addition, the FJC will offer victims advocacy, shelter placement, case management, counseling, safety, education and employment planning, emotional support and childcare when receiving services.

The FJC approach is based on the San Diego Family Justice Center model that opened in 2002. Today, there are 84 FJCs scattered throughout the United States. Our FJC will be the first in Connecticut.

FJCs work. Documented outcomes include:

  • Reduced homicides;
  • Increased community support services;
  • Increased victim safety;
  • Reduced recantation and minimization by victims;
  • Reduced fear and anxiety for survivors and their children;
  • Increased autonomy, empowerment and self-sufficiency for survivors;
  • Increased prosecution of offenders;
  • Reduced costs by co-location/streamlining the process.

This month, The Center has partnered with The Michael Bolton Charities, Inc., to make the Family Justice Center a reality in our area, helping the six towns we serve: Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull.  The Bolton Charities has been instrumental in creating FJCs in New York City.

The Center has always offered crises services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Through the FJC, The Center will be able to expand services to make survivors’ stronger, self-sufficient and no longer dependent on their abuser. Survivors will have the resources to help them and their children live better lives without financial, verbal, emotional and physical/sexual abuse.

The Center has the connections. It’s time we all join together under one roof. We have always been unique among our peers:

  • We are one of five dual agencies, providing both domestic and sexual violence services and prevention among 18 domestic violence and nine sexual assault crises service agencies in Connecticut.
  • The Center is an integral partner in one of the most experience of eight Domestic Violence Court Docket teams and an original member of this specialized court.
  • As one of four Civil Court Advocacy Programs, we are the longest running and the only program with a staff that collaborates with professional criminal court advocates and court personnel.
  • We are the only victim program with coordinating batterer treatment.
  • Our Women of Change program is the only victim program offering gender-specific and trauma-informed reintegration and reunification programming for female ex-offenders.
  • We have one the longest running Multi-disciplinary Investigative Teams and are accredited by the Child Advocacy Center of the National Children’s Alliance.

Our vision: To create a community where there is a zero tolerance of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The Family Justice Center can help make this vision a reality.

Debra Greenwood is President and CEO of The Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County. Judy Stevens is Senior Assistant State’s Attorney, Domestic Violence Unit, head of the FJC steering committee, and  a member of The Center’s Board of Directors.

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