Hudson County has seen an alarming jump in domestic violence incidents in recent years, raising questions as to what’s behind the increase and the best ways to combat it.
December’s double murder at Jersey City’s Arlington Gardens capped off the second time in three years the city’s domestic violence murder rate increased, as previously reported in the Jersey City Reporter.
In that case, Kevin Hodges, 36, allegedly stabbed his mother and grandmother to death.
In June of last year, Heights resident Monica L. Haddad, 44, was shot dead by her husband, who committed suicide afterwards. In October, police found Sineka Davis, 38, lifeless, with a gunshot wound to her chest, inside her Manning Avenue home. Her husband has been charged with her murder.
But these incidents aren’t confined to Jersey City.
In 2011, a 74-year-old man beat his 86-year-old partner to death with a hammer in her Union City apartment, media reports claim.
That same year, officials charged Secaucus lawyer Todd D. Gorman with attempted murder for allegedly attacking his girlfriend with a kitchen knife in her Harmon Cove apartment, and after two mistrials the case remains unresolved. Though Stephanie Schwartz survived her lover’s alleged assault, she committed suicide a year later.
In 2013, a couple who shared a child together was found dead in West New York. The woman was found shot in her face at a salon on 49th Street and Bergenline Avenue; her partner, said to have a domestic violence history, according to media reports, was found a few blocks north on Bergenline.
More recently, a Bayonne man allegedly killed his mother on New Year’s Eve in a local public housing complex.
According to The New Jersey State Police’s 31st Annual Domestic Violence Offense Report, Hudson County had one of the highest arrest numbers for domestic assault for any state county in 2013, at 1,877. That was a sharp increase from 1,717 the year before. The picture becomes bleaker when factoring in arrests for domestic homicide. Hudson was second in that category for 2013.
At least one local city has taken steps to address the issue. In 2015, the Bayonne Economic Opportunity Foundation, working in tandem with Women Rising of Hudson County, began evening support sessions in the city for domestic violence victims.
What’s the cause?
But what is behind this increase? According to Tina Morales, a domestic violence specialist at the North Hudson Community Action Corporation, a group dedicated to improving quality of life for North Jersey residents, the county has no alternative or transitional housing for domestic violence victims.
“We have to continue helping and empowering them, because sooner or later, they’re going back to the same cycle.” –Tina Morales
Couple that with poor employment opportunities in the county, limited childcare assistance and local domestic violence shelters only offering space for victims for two to three months at the maximum, she argued, and many victims are forced back with their abusers.
“You have to get assistance for the children to get Medicaid, but what about housing?” Morales said. “We have to continue helping and empowering them, because sooner or later, they’re going back to the same cycle.”
Morales also cited poverty as a major factor.
A 2013 assessment by HOPES Community Action Partnership, a Hoboken-based community action agency serving low-income youth and families, found that in Hudson County, “Single mothers with children under 18 years of age remain overwhelmingly encumbered by poverty.” In Jersey City’s case, the assessment claimed that it “accounts for nearly half of the countywide population of families, children and, single mothers who are living in poverty.”
Though Hudson County has its own problems with domestic assaults, those same issues apply to America at large, said Joaneileen Coughlan, director of domestic violence services for Women Rising, a community-based organization for women in the county.
“There’s a spike across the country with domestic violence,” Coughlan said. “And that sometimes attributes to the fact that more people are reporting it.”
Coughlan also argued, “There’s really not a lot of affordable housing in Hudson County,” causing further instability for those escaping domestic violence, a nationwide problem. A report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a minimum-wage worker in America would have to work 86 hours a week to afford an average one-bedroom apartment at fair-market rent.
From the clients she has worked with, Coughlan noted that they had a deluge of problems beyond just experiencing violent behavior at home.
That exacerbates their situations.
There’s a multitude of different issues here in Hudson County,” she said. “And sometimes, pressing charges against husband, boyfriend, wife, girlfriend—whoever their partner is—that’s a financial burden. Then what? It’s not really just about domestic violence, it’s a whole cycle.”
However, Coughlan mentioned, not all domestic violence victims or perpetrators – suspected or proven – are impoverished. She noted recent headlines by athletes such as Josh Brown, a former kicker for the New York Giants released last year after admitting to beating his ex-wife; and Jose Reyes, a shortstop for the Colorado Rockies MLB team who was suspended without pay last year after an arrest for allegedly abusing his wife. “It’s a societal problem,”
Speaking on domestic violence in general, a North Bergen woman who said she survived an assault by a former boyfriend had a different take. “The women’s movement has added to the problem as well,” the woman, who requested anonymity, said via email. “Men feel emasculated and threatened by strong women.”
“Any man, no matter how old he is, whether he’s 17 or 70, has no right to hit or abuse a woman,” she added. “If he does it once, then that female needs to get away from him and never go back,” she suggested. “That is the problem; the men are always like, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, honey. It won’t happen again.’”
So how can the county – and the country at large – begin addressing domestic violence? Coughlan argues it is about teaching.
“I think the more that we educate people that domestic violence exists, and it’s not the victim’s fault, she (or he) didn’t make this happen, didn’t let this happen, kind of thing, and take the stigma off of domestic violence that it’s a family issue, supposed to be kept secret, that’s an issue,” she said. She also argued for stricter laws for those who commit domestic violence (which is already happening, as Governor Christie recently signed a bill limiting access to firearms for people convicted of domestic violence assaults).
One domestic violence awareness organization in the county is working on a physical alternative for the housing situation. “The main thing that’s needed [to combat domestic violence] in Hudson County is a support group, as well as a safe house,” said The Rev. Dr. Sarah Bertha Reels, founder and president of Sarah’s Daughters DVA Foundation in Jersey City. “We need a safe house where the women can go and feel that they’re able to go into a safe environment from the batterer. That’s one of our goals.”
For victims seeking immediate assistance, Coughlan urges them to call Women Rising’s 24/7 hotline at (201) 333-5700. Female victims in need of housing can also contact the Garden State Episcopal Community Development Corporation in Jersey City at (201) 604-2600 ext. 300, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.