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In the News

Letter to the Editor from CEO Phyllis Yonta

July 21, 2021

Dear Editor:

The horrific murder of Highland Park-native Yasemin Uyar, following years of repeated and escalating domestic violence, shook Middlesex County. In spite of Yasemin’s courageous efforts to create a safer life for herself and her young son, Sebastian, her life was stolen. Family and friends will keep Yasemin’s memory alive for Sebastian. Women Aware and like-minded partners will ensure that Yasemin’s voice and survivors’ voices continue to be heard.

The fact that an abuser strangled Yasemin in the past made it 10 times more likely that the abuser would kill her. The word “choked” falls far short of describing what strangulation actually is, a terrifying assault that can kill a victim in a matter of seconds. The lethality associated with strangulation is so high that New Jersey recently enacted legislation (S2503) elevating strangulation assault to a second-degree crime punishable by 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $150,000 or both.

As the lead, state-designated domestic violence agency in Middlesex County, Women Aware has been committed to moving survivors and their families beyond abuse for more than 40 years. All our services are free and confidential. Services include a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, legal advocacy, support groups, children’s trauma reduction therapy, counseling and permanent supportive housing. Our 24/7 hotline833-249-4504 – is staffed by trauma-informed advocates who provide crisis counseling as well as resource and referral information. Calls may be anonymous and are kept confidential.

Continued collaboration with our allies in law enforcement; legal services; judiciary; human services; homeless services; immigration services; and government is critical as we work together to break down the barriers that stand between victims/survivors and the services they need. It takes a community to save lives.

Sincerely,

Phyllis Yonta, MSW, MA, DVS

Mildred Torres Named Director of Family Justice Center in Middlesex County

Women Aware, Inc. is pleased to announce the appointment of Mildred Torres as Director of the Family Justice Center in Middlesex County. In its early stages of development, the Center will be a safe, welcoming space where legal services, human services, social services, law enforcement and judiciary come together under one roof to better serve adult and child survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in the County. It is located at 100 Bayard Street, 4th Floor, New Brunswick.

Mildred joined the Women Aware team in 2010 as a Legal Advocate. She quickly climbed the ranks to the Coordinator of Advocacy Services, and is now Director of the Family Justice Center. In her current role, she works closely with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, local police departments and community partners to advocate for the needs of domestic violence victims. In addition, she oversees staff in providing direct services to victims of domestic violence, including education about their rights under the law, assistance with obtaining Temporary or Final Restraining Orders, court accompaniment and housing assistance. Mildred completed the NJ Victim Assistance Academy at Rutgers University in August 2017. She is certified as a Jacquelyn Campbell Danger Assessor and is bilingual in Spanish.

“Mildred has been promoted time and again during her tenure at Women Aware because of her hard work, commitment and, truly, her heart,” said Phyllis Yonta, CEO. “Over the last decade, Mildred has helped more than 10,000 people; I know, for a fact, she has saved lives. She is truly the right person to lead the FJC as Women Aware and our partners work to serve victims better.”

In her new role, Mildred will oversee all clinical, administrative, and managerial aspects of the family justice center. She will ensure ongoing programmatic excellence, quality management, and infrastructure to support and advance the services needed to meet families’ needs.

“Survivors need a place they feel welcomed, believed and supported. I am honored to be appointed Director of such a place, the Middlesex County Family Justice Center,” Mildred said. “I believe the array of skills and experiences I’ve acquired over the years from corporate to government to nonprofit, as well as a survivor of a near fatal domestic violence incident, provides me a unique perspective and ability to successfully oversee the Family Justice Center. Along with my dedicated staff and community partners, I am here to provide survivors compassionate support and comprehensive services. The Family Justice Center is a dream come true.”

The Family Justice Center model, created by the Alliance for HOPE International and recognized by the US Department of Justice, has achieved the following outcomes: reduced homicides; increased victim safety; increased autonomy and empowerment for victims; reduced fear and anxiety for victims and their children; increased efficiency and coordination among service providers; and reduced recantation and minimization by victims when wrapped in services and support; increased prosecution of offenders; and dramatically increased community support services to victims and their children. For more information about the FJC model, visit www.familyjusticecenter.org.

The family justice center in Middlesex County will be the fifth in New Jersey. Centers are currently operating in Essex, Monmouth, Morris and Union counties.

More from Strategic Planning – Family Justice Center

NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal Remarks

In pre-recorded remarks, NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal opened the strategic planning conference for the family justice center in Middlesex County on May 18, 2021.

New space in New Brunswick

The state-designated lead domestic violence service agency in Middlesex County, NJ, Women Aware’s legal advocacy, housing navigation and domestic violence response team programs are now located in downtown New Brunswick, with space for community partners to meet with victim/survivors of domestic violence. This is just the beginning of a family justice center for the County.

This Mother’s Day, Give a Gift that Saves Lives

Meet Michelle

On Thanksgiving Day, Michelle and the abuser were pulled over by the police during a traffic stop. The police arrested the abuser for drug-related charges and saw visible bruises on Michelle. The officer called Women Aware’s 24-hour confidential hotline, suspecting domestic violence. At first, Michelle was reluctant to tell her story out of fear that the abuser would find out and harm her. The abuser was affiliated with a gang and used violence and threats as a control tactic. Our advocate safety planned with Michelle and she gradually felt comfortable enough to share her story. She had sent her six children to her sister’s house in a different state out of fear that the abuser would harm her children. Michelle’s hours at work were cut in half because of COVID and she did not have the funds to move out of the house she shared with the abuser. Michelle was scared, but felt she had to return to the house because her beloved dog was there. Familiar with Women Aware’s partnership with St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, our advocate coordinated with St. Hubert’s to safely pick up Michelle’s dog. St. Hubert’s provided temporary boarding for her pet so she could get to safety. Our Housing Navigator connected with Michelle to assist with immediate relocation. Thanks to our positive working relationship with the police, the officer agreed to transport Michelle to the bus station. Our Housing Navigator provided Michelle with a bus ticket out of state, and she safely relocated to her sister’s house and reunited with her children. Relieved and grateful, Michelle said, “Without the Housing Navigator and 24-hour hotline staff, it would not be possible for me to relocate and who knows where I would be. Thank you for going above and beyond and for caring.”

You can partner with Women Aware to save lives. This Mother’s Day, consider honoring your mother, wife, grandmother, sister, daughter, aunt or friend with a unique gift. Donate to Women Aware and we will mail a Happy Mother’s Day postcard to your honoree as a special thank you. It’s secure and easy to give at https://womenaware.net/donate. You can call 732-249-4900 x 0428 to donate by credit card. You can also mail a check payable to “Women Aware” to Women Aware, 250 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

Every donation makes a difference to survivors moving beyond abuse.

2021 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week

Seminario del Panel de Educación Comunitaria Derechos y Recursos Para Victimas de Crimen en el Condado de Middlesex

El seminario web promoverá la concienciación de la comunidad sobre los derechos y servicios de las víctimas de delitos durante la Semana Nacional de los Derechos de las Víctimas del Delito de 2021 (18-24 de abril de 2021). Los panelistas incluyen la Oficina del Fiscal del Condado de Middlesex, los Servicios Legales de Central Jersey, los Departamentos de Policía de Monroe Township y Perth Amboy, y defensores de Women Aware.

Community Education Panel - Rights & Resources for Victims of Crime in Middlesex County, NJ

The webinar promotes community awareness of crime victims’ rights and services during the 2021 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 18-24, 2021). Panelists include the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Central Jersey Legal Services, Monroe Township and Perth Amboy Police Departments, and Women Aware advocates.

Community Education Panelists

Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office

http://www.middlesexcountynj.gov/government/departments/psh/prosecutor/Pages/main.aspx

732-745-3300

Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office – Victim Witness Unit

http://www.middlesexcountynj.gov/Government/Departments/PSH/Prosecutor/Pages/MCPO/VWUnit.aspx

Central Jersey Legal Services

https://www.lsnj.org/cjls/

Middlesex County – 732-249-7600

Monroe Township Police Department

https://monroetwppolice.org

Non-Emergency: 732-521-0222

Perth Amboy Police Department

https://www.perthamboynj.org/government/departments/police_department

Non-Emergency: 732-442-4400

Women Aware, Inc.

https://womenaware.net

Middlesex County Domestic Violence Hotline: 732-249-4504 Toll-free 833-249-4504

Confidential. Free. 24/7.

Mark Your Calendars

Women Aware Presents A Virtual Conversation with Author Rachel Snyder

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 – 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

https://givebutter.com/WomenAwarePresents

No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us

An award-winning journalist, Rachel Snyder explores the real roots of private violence, its far-reaching consequences and what it will take to truly address it. Thanks to a generous underwriter, ticket sale proceeds benefit Women Aware’s comprehensive services for individuals and families affected by domestic violence in Middlesex County, NJ.

To purchase tickets, visit https://givebutter.com/WomenAwarePresents

$100 Benefactor ticket – includes copy of No Visible Bruises and signed bookplate

$50 General ticket

$50 Attorney ticket for CLE credit

$20 Student ticket

“Our team’s reading of No Visible Bruises had a profound impact on Women Aware’s advocates,” stated Chief Executive Officer Phyllis Yonta. “The opportunity to hear Rachel’s insights on domestic violence and its impact in our society offers our team, supporters, community partners, attorneys, students and the general public to become better informed and do better by victims and their families.”

The Middlesex County Bar Association is a co-sponsor of this event and an approved provider of CLE credit in New Jersey. The program has been approved by the BCLE of the Supreme Court of New Jersey for 1.2 hours of total CLE credit. (Also recognized for NY CLE Credit.)

Snyder will be interviewed by Women Aware Board member Ellen F. Schwartz of the law firm Ramatowski & Schwartz. Attendees will have an opportunity to ask their own questions via the Zoom Chat feature. Questions will be answered as time allows.

Join the Conversation May 25, 2021

Purchase tickets here: https://givebutter.com/WomenAwarePresents

To purchase Rachel’s book in advance:

https://bookshop.org/books/no-visible-bruises-what-we-don-t-know-about-domestic-violence-can-kill-us/9781635570984

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781635570984

https://www.amazon.com/No-Visible-Bruises-Domestic-Violence/dp/1635570972

Text to donate: 202-858-1233 Code WA1

Bilingual Virtual Community Education Panel – Rights & Resources for Victims of Crime in Middlesex County – April 21

Women Aware received funding from the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators (NAVAA) through a grant from the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), within the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, to present a:

Virtual Community Education Panel

Rights & Resources for Victims of Crime in Middlesex County

English and Spanish

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Zoom Presentation https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89437471896?pwd=WldvUFBCa0l6cWs4SXdYZU5DMkh0UT09

The presentation will promote community awareness of crime victims’ rights and services during the 2021 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 18-24, 2021). Panelists include the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Central Jersey Legal Services, Monroe Township and Perth Amboy Police Departments, and Women Aware advocates. Information will be presented in both English and Spanish.

“The support from NAVAA and OVC for our 2021 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week outreach program will help Women Aware, the Prosecutor’s Office, Central Jersey Legal Service and Monroe Township and Perth Amboy Police Departments share important information about rights and resources with victims of crime,” explained Women Aware CEO Phyllis Yonta. “I encourage the Middlesex County community to help promote justice through service to crime victims by tuning into our Community Education Panel on April 21 and supporting victim assistance programs on a daily basis.”

First designated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week increases general public awareness of, and knowledge about the wide range of rights and services available to people who have been victimized by crime. The theme for 2021 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is “Support Victims. Build Trust. Engage Communities.”

Since 2004, the NCVRW Community Awareness Project has provided financial and technical assistance to more than 1000 community projects that promote victim and public awareness activities, and innovative approaches to victim outreach and public education about victims’ rights and services during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

The National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators is a non-profit organization that represents the 56 state agencies that distribute money from the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Crime Victims Fund to more than 4,000 direct victim assistance service providers. The money in the Crime Victims Fund comes from fines collected from offenders convicted of federal crimes and not from U.S. taxpayers.

About Women Aware

Women Aware is the state-designated lead domestic violence agency for Middlesex County. For more than 40 years, Women Aware has been saving lives through a comprehensive array of services that include a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, support groups, children’s trauma therapy programs, legal advocacy, and supportive housing. Each year Women Aware moves approximately 2,000 survivors beyond abuse. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, call Women Aware’s confidential 24-hour hotline at 732-249-4504, toll-free at 833-249-4504.

Women Aware Board Member Recognized by Middlesex County Bar Association

Congratulations to Lois Kahagi

Congratulations to Women Aware Board member W. Lois Kahagi, Esq. for receiving the 2021 Pro Bono Practice Award from the Middlesex County Bar Association. The award recognizes Lois for dedicating substantial time and effort to providing legal representation, pro bono, to survivors of domestic violence through Central Jersey Legal Services. Thank you, Lois, for moving survivors beyond abuse.

Pictured during the virtual awards program are: W. Lois Kahagi, Esq. (left) and Janice Chapin, Esq. executive director, Central Jersey Legal Services.

COVID-19 Response Update

Women Aware Partners with VNA and NJ Department of Health on COVID-19 Vaccinations

Vaccination Day at Women Aware

Women Aware expanded its commitment to promote the health and safety of clients moving beyond abuse and staff by partnering with the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey and New Jersey Department of Health to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. Today, Women Aware is serving as a testing/vaccination site for survivors and homeless services providers.

“From our small administrative office in Middlesex County, over 70 individuals have received COVID-19 vaccinations with 50 more scheduled for vaccination,” explained CEO Phyllis Yonta. “At Women Aware, we believe it takes a community to save lives; it made sense to step up to help our partners at the VNA and DOH get vaccines into people’s arms.”