Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez announced last week that her office and the Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership are inviting the public to an “empowerment forum” titled “Women Standing Against Violence” this coming Monday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City.
Two weeks ago, Milagros Rodriguez De Morel, 38, of Jersey City was allegedly stabbed to death by her husband in front of their teenage son. Her death is one of several domestic violence murders that have occurred in Hudson County recently.
In late April, the body of Albanelis Vidal De Larosa, 51, was found wrapped in blankets near Reservoir Avenue in Jersey City. Police arrested and charged her 56-year-old ex-boyfriend. Five days later, Ashley Bradby, 23, a young mother, was shot to death by a 29-year-old man who then killed himself in that city. Police told the press that the two of them had had a “dating relationship.”
The forum is being held in October to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It will “explore domestic violence issues and how our society can empower people to fight this serious epidemic.”
The free event will be held in Dineen Hall in McIntyre Room B & C, 2641 JFK Blvd. Parking is available at 686 Montgomery St. Light refreshments will be served.
The panel will feature speakers from local advocacy groups, universities, and the prosecutor’s office, as well as public officials.
“We have to continue helping and empowering them, because sooner or later, they’re going back to the same cycle.” –Tina Morales
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.
The double murder at Jersey City’s Arlington Gardens in December of 2016 capped off the second time in three years the city’s domestic violence murder rate increased. In that case, Kevin Hodges, 36, allegedly stabbed his mother and grandmother to death.
In June of 2016, 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 was charged with her murder.
These incidents aren’t confined to Jersey City.
In 2011, a 74-year-old man allegedly beat his 86-year-old partner to death with a hammer in her Union City apartment, according to media reports.
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.
Nationwide advocacy groups report that more than 1,400 women each year are killed by men they know, usually in an intimate partner situation.
What’s the cause?
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.
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 return to 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.
From the clients she has worked with, Coughlan noted that they had a deluge of problems beyond just experiencing violent behavior at home.
“Sometimes, pressing charges against husband, boyfriend, wife, girlfriend—whoever their partner is—that’s a financial burden,” she said. “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.
Speaking on domestic violence in general, a North Bergen woman who said she survived an assault by a former boyfriend, said: “Any man, no matter how old he is, whether he’s 17 or 70, has no right to hit or abuse a woman. If he does it once, then that female needs to get away from him and never go back. That is the problem; the men are always like, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, honey. It won’t happen again.’”
The local domestic violence advocacy group, Women Rising, can be reached 24/7 hotline at (201) 333-5700. Female victims in need of housing can contact the Garden State Episcopal Community Development Corporation in Jersey City at (201) 604-2600 ext. 300, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233.
Hannington Dia can be reached at email@example.com