By Michael Hill
Senate President Steve Sweeney looked pained at a roundtable as he listened to advocates for domestic violence survivors explain the challenges of recovering from the abuse.
Several times Sweeney said the Ray Rice knockout video of Rice’s fiancee spurred him to gather information about recovery.
“I think it made everyone wake up to the seriousness of domestic violence. But more importantly, Sen. Weinberg said you gotta come up and see what happens afterward and and what needs to be done to return people to as a normal a life as possible,” Sweeney said.
“It brought it home in full vision for people who had never seen it before,” Sen. Loretta Weinberg said.
Weinberg is a long-time domestic violence advocate for prevention. She says the issue has the momentum to lead to change.
The knockout video has spurred two assemblywomen to propose courts that only deal with domestic violence. One says right now municipal courts — the same ones that handle traffic tickets — handle 40,000 domestic violence cases in New Jersey.
“What I’m proposing is a new court that really deals with domestic violence comprehensively, that allows the courtroom to have the resources, judges, defenders who are specially trained in this,” said Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande.
Patrice Lenowitz co-founded the Children’s Justice Campaign and urged the lawmakers to improve the courts.
“Unconscionable that family courts exclude experts that should be involved in these cases,” Lenowitz said.
“Safety always first when it comes to domestic violence. A lot of professionals don’t understand it. Domestic violence court would add that sensitivity,” said Center for Hope and Safety Executive Director Elaine Meyerson.
This domestic violence survivor wants to remain anonymous but supports the idea.
“I think it’s a great idea because I think training the professionals in domestic violence would help the process because when you don’t understand or are not sensitive to the issue, I think it becomes a concern and safety issue to the client,” she said.
It’s unclear what will come from this roundtable discussion on domestic violence but advocates say it’s clear this issue begs for legislative change in New Jersey.