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Facility to help abuse victims

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Continuing the tradition of giving back to the greater South Bend community, Notre Dame students may soon have additional volunteer opportunities to help those in need at the proposed Family Justice Center of Saint Joseph County.

Approximately 75 community members gathered Tuesday night in the Carey Auditorium of the Hesburgh Library to discuss the proposed center, which would be located in the First Source Bank Building on the corner of Main Street and Jefferson Street in South Bend.

Casey Gwinn, the director of the Technical Assistance Project of the President’s Family Justice Center Initiative, was the evening’s keynote speaker and he stressed the necessity of a center such as this one in the South Bend community.

“These centers fulfill a common vision … it is not just for kids, not just adults, but a center where the whole family can come to combat criminal justice and receive the help they need,” Gwinn said.

Gwinn is the founder of the San Diego Family Justice Center, which is one of the most successful domestic violence support centers in the country and serves as a model for the creation of similar programs throughout the nation.

The Family Justice Center of Saint Joseph County would serve as a comprehensive center that unites all the services – such as psychological, physical and spiritual aid – needed by domestic abuse victims under one roof.

Gwinn said research has shown when family violence occurs, victims must go to 32 different agencies to receive necessary help.

“The hope is that the [Family Violence Center] will end the cycle of family violence,” he said.

Notre Dame will maintain a strong connection with the new project as the Robinson Community Learning Center, Notre Dame Security/Police and the Center for Social Concerns will be three of the 22 local organizations that will make up the center.

According to Chair of the Family Justice Center of Saint Joseph County Peter Morgan, approximately 12 Notre Dame faculty members have also already expressed interest in arranging student internships with the center.

Gwinn said the center runs on employees who work there everyday, caring for those who experience domestic abuse.

“So many aspects of this community are rallying around this vision … including the academic community, much like you have here with Notre Dame,” he said.

As part of the President’s Family Justice Center Initiative to create comprehensive domestic abuse centers throughout America, South Bend was chosen as one of 15 communities nationwide out of 400 applicants to receive federal aid to create a local family justice center.

Local statistics show police respond to over 8,000 domestic abuse calls each year. However, the Department of Justice estimates only 54 percent of partner violence is reported which means it is estimated over 16,000 instance of abuse actually occur.

Gwinn said it is important to stay united as a community and advancing a common goal to create the center in Saint Joseph County and work to end the violence.

“Fear becomes the enemy to this vision … the people here get it, they are good people and there are so many local agencies that support it,” he said. “The challenge is to stay together to get this to happen.”

Gwinn said the opening of each new center is a step in breaking the chain of family violence, and if this center does not open the abuse will continue in this community.

“If you can come together … around a common vision to help families in need and break the trend of family violence we can change the world,” he said.

Kmeeha01@saintmarys.edu