Ryan and legislative leaders discuss governments responsibility to find lasting solutions

10/30/2009 10:39:46 AM



Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman William Ryan (D, WFP-White Plains) hosted a roundtable discussion on domestic abuse, “Stopping Family Violence Where It Starts” with the County’s leading domestic violence advocates today.  This was an initiative that will seek to promote a collaborative effort and coordinated strategy between service providers, law enforcement and government to provide domestic violence victims with the services they need to escape violent relationships.  Ryan, along with Majority Whip Judith Myers (D-Larchmont), the Board’s Chair for the Committee on Public Safety and Security Legislator Vito Pinto (D-Tuckahoe) and the Board’s Chair for the Committee on Community Services Legislator Lois Bronz (D, WFP-Greenburgh) invited advocates to the discussion so they could give substantive updates on their work in the service area and to hear from them about the current challenges. "Not long ago, domestic violence was considered a family problem," Ryan said. "Today, thanks to such legislative gains as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and a renewed commitment by government to help fund community-based agencies to address the concerns, it is recognized as a threat to the entire community.  My goal today is to bring together a diverse group of leaders that represent government, the judicial system, the education community, domestic violence victim service providers, faith-based organizations and many others, to talk about local domestic violence issues, learn more about existing programs, and identify ways county government can best partner with community stakeholders to effectively take on the challenges of a growing domestic violence problem.”


At the roundtable held at Michaelian Office Building, Chairman Ryan and legislators heard from advocates and service providers. Participants included Barbara Egenhauser, an Assistant District Attorney with the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, Camille Murphy, Director of the Westchester County Office for Women, Karen Cheeks-Lomax, Director of ‘My Sister’s Place’,  Eileen Lambert, a representative of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Carla Horton, Director of Hope’s Door, Maribel Rivera of Mental Health Association of Westchester County, Lisa Winjum of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, Cindy Kanusher, Assistant Director for the Pace Women’s Justice Center, Beth Thompson, program manager for ‘Margaret’s Place’, an initiative between the Joe Torre Safe at Home project and Safe Horizon, Sylvana Trabout, Assistant Director for Trauma & Abuse at the Westchester Jewish Community Services, Mary Krukiel, Director of Victims Assistance Services—West COP and Eva Dolgin, LGBTQ Programs Coordinator at Victims Assistance Services.  They stressed the importance of expanding domestic and sexual assault services and the need for a national healthcare strategy to address domestic violence.  “We, at the Board, know how much needs to be done to take meaningful steps to end domestic violence and sexual assault. We need tough law enforcement, aggressive prosecutions, effective prevention programs and available shelters for families in distress,” said Legislator Bronz.  “Most importantly, we need to insure that more people know and understand that domestic violence is not a private matter. It is a critical national problem that affects us all -- in every community, in non-traditional sites, in every work place and in every school. Let’s begin to engage service organizations in the education process.”


“As we observe National Domestic Violence Awareness Month this month, we also mark the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act -- a tremendous achievement that significantly highlights efforts to address domestic violence. Unfortunately, the anniversary occurs amid news of significant state and local cutbacks to domestic violence programs across the country, just as reports of violence are increasing,” said Legislator Myers.  “Government must continue to prioritize the life-saving emergency services that aid the most vulnerable among us.  Women who need to escape their abusers, figure out how to provide a safe home for their children and get themselves back on their feet financially simply cannot do all this alone.”


Ryan also emphasized the Board’s legislative initiatives around domestic violence:


  • In 2005 the Board voted along with the County Executive to make it illegal for an employer to refuse to hire or fire, or discriminate against a victim of domestic violence, or to act in a way that would cause a person to not be hired by another agency, due to their victim of domestic violence status. The same law also made it illegal for public business from hotel to store to amusement park, to refuse their services to a person based on their status as a victim of domestic violence.
  • It also became illegal to deny the rent, sale, or lease of housing accommodations to a person based on their status as a victim of domestic violence. In 2008, the Board voted to amend this law again (under the Human Rights Law)
  • In 2008, the Chairman of the Board of Legislators approved contracts to the Child Abuse Prevention Center, My Sister’s Place, and the Northern Westchester Shelter in the total of $110,000 to support prevention services, provide case management, overstay services at the shelter, and to provide domestic violence hotline services

Beyond these legislative improvements, Ryan announced an long-term commitment to work with advocates and leaders to identify creative and innovative ways that the Board of Legislators can support and help those agencies that are "on the ground" in an environment where resources are scarce. “While reports of domestic violence are on the rise, state and local funding for services to its survivors is down everywhere.  That means efforts to end domestic violence and aid its victims have more hard times ahead.  Government must work collaboratively with agencies to find additional support that will promote lasting solutions,” commented Ryan.


Click here to watch Roundtable Discussion.


More on Westchester County’s resources for Domestic Violence.


Click any image above to enlarge.