23 volunteers now active on domestic violence team

Staff Writer

By cindy tietjen

23 volunteers now active
on domestic violence team

JACKSON — A victim of domestic violence may experience many emotions: fear, helplessness and feelings of having no place to turn.

A new team of police officers and volunteers have come together to try and ease the pain of victims and maybe — just maybe — erase the stigma that is often attached to domestic violence.

Under the direction of Jackson Public Safety Director Samuel DePasquale, members of the Domestic Violence Response Team offer victims a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, a nonjudgmental person to offer comfort to a person in need.

Lisa. Steve. Lorraine. The volunteer members of the response team go only by the first names in order to protect their anonymity. In turn, they promise to keep the confidences of almost every victim they encounter.

In January 2000, legislation was passed which stated that a domestic violence program was mandatory for all towns.

Although it was legislation that prompted the Jackson Police Department to start a program, Officer Russell Scialpi believes the Domestic Violence Response Team is a great addition to the department. Scialpi, the domestic violence liaison to the group, credits the success of the team to the dedication of the volunteers.

"We started by advertising in newspapers saying that we were looking for volunteers to be a part of a domestic violence response team," Scialpi said. "We had a meeting at the senior center and about 50 people showed up."

At that initial meeting, Scialpi gave the audience an overview of what the program would consist of.

Mary Pettrow of Providence House, an Ocean County organization which provides shelter for victims of domestic violence, was also on hand to talk to the residents.

"At the end of the presentation we asked people to go home and think about if they could afford to make the commitment and give the time that would be required of them," said Scialpi. "If they decided they were still interested they were asked to contact me for an application. The applicants were interviewed and 29 volunteers started the training program."

Out of the 29 people who began the training phase of the program, 23 completed the course.

"We really did get the best of the best," Scialpi said. "It takes dedication to give up that many hours."

Steve, Lisa and Lorraine, along with the other volunteers, logged 30 hours of classroom training and 10 hours of court time.

In many ways, Steve said, he felt the court time taught him the most valuable lessons.

"Seeing a domestic violence case play out in front of me in court gave me the confidence to know that if a victim asked me what to expect in court I could be 100 percent honest and tell them exactly what I saw," Steve said. "It was priceless to have that experience because many times what you don’t know is what scares you the most."

In 2000, the Jackson Police Department responded to about 338 domestic violence calls; 81 of those calls resulted in an arrest. In 2001, police responded to 349 domestic violence calls; 98 of which resulted in an arrest.

This year there have been 10 calls related to domestic violence. Two of those calls resulted in an arrest.

The numbers are approximate because while the initial call may have been for domestic violence, the perpetrator may have been picked up on another violation.

According to information provided by the police, the Domestic Violence Response Team will be activated in the following circumstances:

• If the offender was arrested under the guidelines of the Jackson Police Depart-ment.

• If the victim exhibits signs of injury which are attributed to an act of domestic violence.

• If the victim requests to apply for a restraining order.

• If the alleged offender exhibits behavior that is believed would place the victim in immediate fear for personal or family safety.

• If the victim requests to speak with a member of the Domestic Violence Response Team.

• If domestic violence incidents where shelter for the victim or shelter for the victim’s children is an issue.

• If the domestic violence incident involves the welfare and care of a minor child.

In those cases, a member of the response team will be contacted and will come down to the police station.

"We never go directly to a victim’s home," said Lisa, a volunteer. "We come to the station and let them decide if they want to speak with us."

Lisa said the volunteers work in a buddy system, especially when children are involved.

"If the parent gives consent we take the children to a separate area," she said. " We do this for two reasons: first, so the parent can speak freely without being in front of her child or children; and second, to try and provide a little bit of comfort for the children in a safe environment."

The volunteers do not act as counselors, they only provide the victims with information and outlets they can turn to, such as Providence House. The volunteers let the victims know that although Providence House is part of Catholic Charities, no one in need will be turned away.

According to Scialpi, there are only three circumstances in which a conversation between a volunteer and a victim may not remain confidential:

• If the victim says he or she is considering suicide or self-inflicted bodily harm.

• If the victim says he or she is considering harming another person.

• If there is any evidence of child abuse.

"In those three cases the Domestic Violence Response Team volunteer must report it to the watch commander or to the officer in charge," Scialpi said.

"In every other situation the victim can speak freely with the volunteer about anything and be assured the conversation is 100 percent confidential," the officer said.

Although all involved wish there was no need for such a response team, Lorraine is glad she may be able to reach out to those in need.

"Your home should be a safe harbor," she said. "For many of the victims home is where the fear is. If I can help just one person know that they have options, if I can help prevent one child from living with domestic violence, then this has all been worth it."

Anyone suffering the effects of domestic violence may contact Providence House at the following 24-hour hotline numbers: (732) 244-8259 or (800) 246-8910.