City Battling Domestic Abuse Spike With Nail Salon, Grocery Store Outreach
QUEENS — Thirteen years ago, Bianca fled with her three children to New York from Suriname to escape her violent husband.
Desperate for a safe place, they ended up in Bianca's brother's house in Southeast Queens. Six months later her husband found them.
He pleaded and promised to change. But one night he put a knife to her throat, because he didn’t like what she had served him for dinner, she said.
Bianca, 45, who did not want her last name to be used, is one of thousands of women in New York who have suffered abuse at the hands of a partner.
Last year, police responded to 280,531 domestic violence incidents throughout the city, nearly 60,000 more than in 2002.
With the number of reported incidents on the rise, the city has began deploying a variety of innovative methods to reach out to the victims in recent weeks and months, including distributing information at nail salons and dropping leaflets into grocery bags in the most affected neighborhoods, according to Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, the newly appointed Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.
The city has been collaborating recently with Catholic Charities in Queens and with C-Town and Bravo supermarkets in several neighborhoods, including Jamaica, which have agreed to place information in shopping bags.
And the agency started doing outreach at transit hubs including in Jamaica and at the Roosevelt Avenue station in Corona, as well as at nail salons, laundromats and barber shops, which provide “the safe space and you can talk to people,” according to Pierre-Louis.
Outreach workers interact with staff and customers and give out bags with small gadgets, such as compact mirrors and hand sanitizers, that have the agency’s logo and contact information. Several such initiatives were recently conducted in Jamaica, Corona and Harlem.
“We’ve been (doing it) in the neighborhoods where we know domestic violence happens frequently,” said Ed Hill, executive director of outreach and strategic coordination at the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.
“When we did this this in Jamaica, we doubled the number of clients we were getting from the Jamaica area so we think that’s a very effective outreach,” Hill said.
The agency is also hoping to partner with York College “to reach out better to their student community,” Hill said.
The outreach is critical in areas of the city with the highest numbers of domestic violence incidents.
Southeast Queens' 113th Precinct, which covers South Jamaica, St. Albans and South Ozone Park, saw 5,699 incidents and the 103rd Precinct had 5,333. The two precincts had the most domestic violence incidents in the borough last year.
The 75th Precinct, which covers East New York, Brooklyn, recorded the highest number of incidents last year — 13,097. The 43rd Precinct, which includes Parkchester in The Bronx, had 9,917 incidents, and the 46th Precinct, that covers Fordham, recorded 9,140 incidents.
In 2013, 62 New Yorkers, mostly women, were killed in family-related homicides, according to data provided by the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, nearly 19 percent of the 335 killings that year.
Earlier this year, Deisy Garcia, a 21-year old churchgoing immigrant from Guatemala, was killed along with her two young daughters in Jamaica earlier this year, police and the Queens DA's office said.
The police were summoned to Garcia's home twice in 2013, but that did not prevent her husband, Miguel Mejia-Ramos, 28, from stabbing her and their daughters Daniela, 2, and Yoselin, 1, after he allegedly saw pictures of his wife with another man on her phone.
Domestic violence has a disproportionate effect on communities of color. From 2002 through 2013, 50 percent of women who were murdered by their partners in New York were black (172 out of 350), said Pierre-Louis. And many of the victims have been immigrants, she said.
But statistics may not tell the whole story, experts say. “That’s just where it’s reported,” said David Beasley of Safe Horizon, a nonprofit that provides assistance to victims of domestic violence.
According to Pierre-Louis, women in other neighborhoods may not report domestic violence incidents to the police as frequently. Instead, they may seek help at their church or doctor’s office.
The city has dedicated a number of resources to reach out to communities “that we know are disproportionately impacted” by domestic violence, said Pierre-Louis, who recently spoke about the problem at a 103rd Precinct Community Council meeting.
Outreach efforts have been targeted toward a number of groups, including African-American, Latino, Asian and LGBTQ.
Experts say it’s hard to explain why certain neighborhoods record more domestic violence incidents than others, but Lauren Outlaw, director of the Allen Women's Resource Center in Jamaica, said it is often related to poverty and financial hardships.
The challenge, experts say, is to give women who experience domestic violence tools to be more independent, by providing them with educational options, job trainings and housing assistance when they go to a shelter.
“Our goal is to empower victims to make choices about how they want to deal with the violence that is occurring in their lives,” Pierre-Louis said.
One of the biggest problems faced by domestic violence victims is getting out of abusive relationships, experts say.
Bianca, whose husband died of a heart attack, ended up in another bad relationship two years after his death. It took her two years to end it.
For several years now she has been attending domestic violence counseling sessions at the Community Healthcare Network in Jamaica, a nonprofit offering affordable health care in underserved communities.
Bianca, who is now finishing her Bachelor's Degree at York College and planning to go for a Master’s Degree and become a math teacher, said the therapy has helped her rebuild her confidence and self-esteem.
“Talking about it helps a lot and I’m doing so much better,” she said. “But [the abuse] stays with you.”
For information about domestic violence and the NYC Family Justice Centers, go here. To reach domestic violence hotline dial: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673) or 311.