Family Justice Center offers multiple services under one roof
The same question has been asked for decades—maybe centuries. Why do those in abusive situations stay? Why, for example, did Rosa Chatman, found beaten to death in her apartment in College Hill Courts, continue to see Bruce Stevenson, her alleged attacker, even though his history included aggravated rape, kidnapping and attempted murder? In a hypothetical situation, why does a well-off, educated woman stay with her abuser, even though she may have resources Rosa Chatman did not?
The answers are as diverse as the victims. But starting July 1, Chattanooga will have another major resource for domestic violence victims, women, children—and men. The Family Justice Center will officially open in its temporary location in the Eastgate area on that date, offering multiple services for victims of any type of violence. (The center will remain in its 7,000-square-foot temporary space for an estimated year, as the 40,000-square-foot permanent space is being built out in the former U.S. Post Office annex next to Brainerd Mission Cemetery.)
“The Family Justice Center concept originated in San Diego in the ’90s,” says the FJC’s Executive Director Valerie Radu, Ph.D., LCSW. “It was clear there was a need for centrally located services, with multiple providers in one place.” President George Bush supported the concept going nationwide, and Gov. Bill Haslam has overseen the creation of what will eventually be 17 Tennessee Family Justice Centers. “The start-up funds come from the state,” explains Radu. “We will be the fourth to open. The local communities decide how to continue to fund the centers, and in our case, the city has stepped up. We will be part of the Chattanooga Police Department.”
Chattanooga was one of the first cities to participate in the initial request for funding, due mostly to the support of Mayor Andy Berke, and with the full support of Police Chief Fred Fletcher, she says.
“The statistics [on domestic violence] in Tennessee are awful. Fully 51 percent of crimes against persons are domestic violence-related,” Radu says.
Services the Family Justice Center will provide
• Legal assistance. “We will provide court advocates, who can go to court with the victims to provide help and support. We can provide advice on orders of protection, and we work with Legal Aid of Tennessee,” says Radu. “Many victims, trying to navigate the legal system, are re-victimized over and over. We want to help prevent that.”
• Safety planning. “One in three women will experience domestic violence,” says Radu. “We’ll go through a series of questions with the women who come to us, and create a plan for them, to make sure they are as safe as they can be, whether they choose to stay in their current situation or not.”
• Mental health counseling. The FJC is partnering with the Helen Ross McNabb Center, as well as the Southern Adventist School of Social Work, to provide free mental health counseling for victims of violence. Other therapists, says Radu, are also stepping up to help run groups for women, families and children. “We will be seeing people with significant [mental and emotional] trauma,” Radu says, “and we will be prepared to do assessments for those who need medication.” Victims who need physical treatment will be counseled and referred to local hospitals.
• Elder abuse intervention. “We are a pilot site for an elder abuse shelter network,” says Radu. “This is a very vulnerable population and there is often nowhere to place them.” Radu has been working with a successful New York organization, the Hebrew Home for the Aged, which has a service such as the FJC will provide. “We have a team that will do home-based assessments. The Fire Department has been outstanding in helping us identify who needs help.”
• Partnership with the Child Advocacy Center. “Anything of a criminal nature will be reported to child protective services, but we will work with the CAC to provide support for the families,” says Radu.
• Connection to community resources. Victims often need other types of services, such as a safe place for their pets. Many will stay in an abusive situation rather than abandon a beloved pet to an abuser. “We are working closely with McKamey Animal Center on this and they have been wonderful,” says Radu.
• Complementary services. Already, says Radu, volunteers have come forward to lead free groups and classes in things such as trauma-informed yoga, dance, healthy eating on a budget, foods to combat depression, poetry circles, and other ideas.
Security and safety major priorities at FJC
Radu emphasizes that the FJC is a walk-in facility and referrals are not needed. At the same time, great care has been taken to ensure security, with separate, locked entrances, security cameras and on-site security personnel.
The temporary center offers a variety of rooms where people can just rest and have quiet time. It also has a shower and a small kitchen. While it will not be a shelter, it’s nonetheless a place where those who come there can feel safe.
Though not nearly as prevalent as violence against women and children, violence against men does occur. “Six percent of sexual assaults are against men,” Radu says, noting that the number is likely very underreported as many men do not want to be perceived as “victims.” But the FJC has already received calls from men, and will be prepared to offer them the same services.
Also, Radu adds, the FJC is reaching out to the LGBT community, letting its members know that they will be welcomed at the center. “Chattanooga CARES will be one of our off-site partners,” she says.
In yet more community outreach, a “faith-centered initiative” will roll out to local churches.
“We are really trying to reach as many people and and as many age groups as we can,” Radu says, noting that social media involvement is important to reach younger people, who will not necessarily call a hotline. The center will advocate the use of the app ASPIRE, “which offers ways to get help if you are in a dangerous situation,” says Radu.
The Family Justice Center is creating a Coordinated Community Response team, which will collect data from the center and compare it with data from other cities and states. The FJC will also hold public meetings, beginning in July, both to educate people about the issues and the center’s mission, and also to solicit input. “We will get data from as many sources as possible, and the CCR will work with us to make recommendations,” Radu says.
She anticipates that there will be as much as a 30 percent increase in reporting of violent crimes against persons once the center opens, because victims will have another place of safety to go to. “We want to intervene earlier, get to people when it is the second call. We’ll let people know that we can discuss your situation without reporting a crime, and that we can coordinate referrals for you,” she says.
The FJC is also accepting volunteers, who will of course be fully screened.
“If we had gotten a referral [to Rosa Chatman] on the second call, we could have helped her with a safety plan,” Radu says. “We will reach out to you. We will never close a case unless you ask us to, and we will always be a place that is safe.”
The Family Justice Center (temporary location)
5741 Cornelison Rd.
(Eastgate area, Building 6400, next to TVFCU)
Chattanooga, TN 37406
Center hours: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mon-Fri
Domestic Violence By The Numbers
- Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
- Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.
- Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
- Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.
- Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a breakup.
- Everyday in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
- Ninety-two percent of women surveyed listed reducing domestic violence and sexual assault as their top concern.
- Domestic violence victims lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year in the US alone—the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.
- Based on reports from 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who had been physically abused by their partners had never contacted non-governmental organizations, shelters, or the police for help.
- The costs of intimate partner violence in the US alone exceed $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion.
- Men who as children witnessed their parents’ domestic violence were twice as likely to abuse their own wives than sons of nonviolent parents.