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Brooklyn Family Justice Center leads in resources for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence

The Mayor’s Office to End Domestic & Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV) program offered a tour of its Brooklyn Family Justice Center on August 10, alongside a discussion with survivors.

August 15, 2022 Ella Napack
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The Brooklyn Family Justice Center (Brooklyn FJC), part of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic & Gender-Based Violence, has become the model of a successful resource center for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence.

The center pioneered the “one-stop shopping” concept for survivor support when it began in 2005, placing lawyers, police, dedicated domestic violence prosecutors, counselors, clergy and other service providers under one roof. The Brooklyn FJC was the first of 15 centers planned under the Federal Family Justice Center initiative, and the oldest FJC internationally.

The Brooklyn FJC has welcoming facilities in the children’s room, which is in the center of the office. Photo: Ella Napack

Amairis Pena Chavez, Deputy Director of the NY Family Justice Center dubbed “pro of all things Brooklyn FJC,” led a tour of the center alongside a discussion with a group of survivors on Wednesday. Before Chavez became involved with the Brooklyn FJC 15 years ago, she was a project director at Sanctuary for Families.

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Amairis Pena Chavez leads a tour through the family center at the Brooklyn FJC on Jay Street. Photo: Ella Napack

“When a woman would come in with a concern, time after time, she would walk away with a list of things she needed to do that were not available to her,” Chavez said about the lack of resources available to women before the Brooklyn FJC. “Now, we have all the agencies that can provide services under the same roof.”

The center houses over 30 agencies on location, with over 100 connected organizations overall. “There are no walls dividing us,” Chavez said. “We work side-by-side, yet each organization is autonomous.”

The agencies that offer services range from community-based non-profits to governmental agencies, including a small food pantry at the center as well. All services are free and confidential, and the center focuses on meeting survivors where they are, regardless of their primary language, gender identity or immigration status.

Doreen Jones, a survivor of domestic violence who came to the center in 2019, spoke with the group about her experience with Brooklyn FJC.

“The thing about survivor services is that every case is so different,” Jones said. “You may not know what you need, just that you need help, and what you need might change by tomorrow.”

The Brooklyn FJC connected her to the District Attorney’s office and Jones had her partner arrested. When she began criminal proceedings, her partner tried to threaten her into dropping the case. Jones was connected to support groups and services, such as the lock-change service, that provided her with the resources she needed to safely separate from her abuser.

The Brooklyn Family Justice Center is on floor 15 at 305 Jay Street. Photo: Brooklyn Family Justice Center

The Kings County District Attorney’s Office is the lead partner for the Brooklyn FJC, and their office is on the same floor at the center on Jay Street. Distinctively, all individual and family support services are available to anyone, even if they are not pursuing a legal path or a criminal case with the DA.

“It is not always the right assumption that someone can leave a circumstance of abuse, or that it is the safest option.” Chavez said. She explained that although the center gives many different options for individuals to pursue a legal route, it is not the right answer for everyone.

Many foreign-born survivors fear reporting their abuse for immigration reasons, although technically immigrant survivors are protected under New York City’s confidentiality policy.

“We never push someone to go forward on the criminal side if they do not feel comfortable,” Chavez said.

52.9% of clients served at the Brooklyn Family Justice Center reported being born in a foreign-born, and the center has on-site interpretation services, and Spanish-speaking counseling services available.

“No one here is going to share an individual’s immigration status, but we can also provide access to an immigration attorney if they need,” Chavez said.

“In my experience, it is all about empowering the person that comes here and giving them choices,” said Beth Seibold, Senior Communications Advisor at the Mayor’s Office ENDGBV.

The Brooklyn FJC assisted 2,939 clients through 8,267 in 2021. Seibold explained that some clients only come once, and others have been coming for years.

“We often get 3 generations of a family, and we have services available for children, adults and elderly individuals,” Chavez said. The center offers childcare, counseling and literacy training for all ages. The Domestic Violence and Elderly Abuse bureaus are in the same building as the center.

Kings County District Attorney Eric Gonzales stopped by the tour to talk about the importance of the Brooklyn FJC in the fight to end gender-based violence. Gonzales worked in the Sex Crimes and Special Victims Bureau, and Domestic Violence Bureau before he was appointed to DA.

Eric Gonzales speaks about his enthusiasm and belief in the center. Photo: Ella Napack

“When survivors of abuse come in, their immediate concerns are not of a criminal matter,” Gonzales said. “I spent a lot of time as a young prosecutor directing people to different places to receive services, and then individuals have to relive their trauma at all those places in order to get support.”

Gonzales explained that a system of isolated organizations that were difficult to navigate, each demanding different things of the survivor, is often what drew individuals back into the home of the abuser.

Gonzales shared that having all the resources in one place was a historic change in practice, and that the model quickly became the standard for the way this work should be done.

“My family grew up poor. It was just me and my mom,” Gonzales said. “I know what it feels like to be moving from agency to agency. It can feel humiliating.”

The walls of the Brooklyn FJC are color coded, and green is for legal. The tour met with Barbara Kryszko, an Immigration and Family Law Attorney with Sanctuary for Families. Kryszko explained the importance of providing everyone with a free legal consultation, even if they are not able to represent them in court.

“People have a lot of misconceptions and fear instilled in them by their batterers,” Kryszko said. “We address an individual’s safety as well as provide legal advice through a trauma-informed lens.”

Two Spanish-speaking survivors, Susana and Christina, spoke about their experiences with the Brooklyn FJC. Their quotes have been translated from Spanish.

Susana came to the center 3 years ago after she received a pamphlet from a hospital in Coney Island. She explained that after she learned that her daughter was participating in self-harm and that her son wanted to kill his father, her husband, she knew she had to do something. The center helped her file an order of protection against her abuser and gain the resources she needed to become independent.

“I did not realize the extent of the abuse I was living through, physically, psychologically and economically,” Susana said. “It was not until I left the situation that I realized.”

Susana explained her gratitude for her case manager, Anamaria Rodriguez of Good Shepherd Services, who connected her to a support group. “I realized that there were other women that have experienced the same as I have, and I realized that there is help out there,” Susana said.

Survivor Susana smiles inside the Brooklyn FJC after the group discussion. Photo: Ella Napack

“I had been discouraged by my church to do anything about the abuse,” Susana said. “They told me it was not a woman’s place to leave her husband, so the abuse continued until I realized I needed to leave for my children.”

Susana explained that her support group and Anamaria have become a part of her family, and she wants to help other women. “Now I can have my own life,” she said.

Cancer-survivor Christina also shared her deep appreciation for Anamaria, as the tour celebrated that Christina finally divorced her abuser this week.

“I am an example of what you can do,” Christina said. After nearly 15 years of abuse from her ex-husband, a police officer in Brooklyn, she tried to kill herself 2 times. “I didn’t know there was help out there, until I met Anamaria who told me I was strong and that I could do it.”

“I look like I should be Anamaria’s mom,” Christina laughed as she remarked on how much Anamaria has helped her.

“There is help out there,” Christina said. “I feel safe now, and I am free.”

The Family Justice Centers in each borough assisted 15,249 clients in total last year, and the Brooklyn FJC is eager to continue expanding their reach.

“We are breaking the dam of awareness for the resources out there,” Seibold said. The Brooklyn FJC’s doors are always open for any individual seeking inclusive and free services; the center has set the tone for what support can be provided to anyone in need.

NYC 24-Hour Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-621-HOPE
Brooklyn Family Justice Center: 1-718-250-5113

The center has a food pantry available to any client that needs. Photo: Ella Napack

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