Manchester Family Justice Center will offer services and safety for abuse victimsBy MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader
November 25. 2016 10:41PM
MANCHESTER — Police and several social-service agencies will open a one-stop center soon where victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault can receive everything from health care to help in filing paperwork in family court.
The Manchester Family Justice Center will be located in the downtown YWCA and funded by a three-year, $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Organizers said the Justice Center also could be used for victims of elder abuse and human trafficking.
“The concept is to remove all the barriers for the victims of domestic and sexual assault,” said Det. Lt. Paul Thompson, who used to run the department’s domestic violence unit. The police department will oversee the grant.
“This is a way for the city to look more strategically at the services we’re offering and provide hope,” said Jessic Sugrue, chief executive officer of the Manchester YWCA.
Thompson said the barriers can be as simple as child care: the police don’t offer child care, so a parent who has been abused can’t bring children to the police department to fill out a report and be interviewed.
The barriers also involve complex relationships and interdependence. For example, some abusers maintain so much control over their victims that those victims have no resources when they try to leave an abusive relationship, he said.
“We see people who are unable to get out of their cycle of abuse,” Thompson said.
Domestic violence played a role in nearly 950 of the 5,500 arrests city police made last year, he said.
Thompson said the Manchester Family Justice Center is patterned after a similar effort in Strafford County.
Located in the community building behind Spaulding High School in Rochester, the Strafford County organization offers a safe place for victims to find support: free or reduced-cost legal help for matters such as restraining orders, divorce and custody; a police officer; and child care when victims are meeting with advocates or social workers.
Thompson and Sugrue stressed that many of those services are already available in Manchester and the Family Justice Center will put them under one roof.
The Manchester operation involves representatives from the Manchester Community Resource Center, Manchester Community Health Center, Easter Seals New Hampshire and the YWCA, Thompson said.
The organizations will soon interview for a director to run the Justice Center, Thompson said. He hopes to have a director on board by January. The center will start by being open two days a week and then expand once a director is hired and enough donations come in to allow expanded hours, Thompson said.
In the future, he hopes to include organizations that provide emergency shelter and drug rehabilitation.
“The Family Justice Center allows the police department and community organizations to come together to provide a comprehensive approach to services,” Sugrue said.
Thompson said police want to make arrests in cases of domestic assault and hold the perpetrators accountable. But he said relationships have many layers of interdependence and not all victims want to see their abuser prosecuted.
That doesn’t mean they don’t need any help.
“Most victims just want the abuse to stop,” Thompson said. “It’s at the hands of someone they love. They want to get beyond the barriers and out of the relationship.”