“¡Basta ya!” Enough is enough! shouted a crowd in Corona, when Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) urged residents to raise their voices in unison against domestic violence last Thursday.
Ferreras organized the rally at Corona Plaza to raise awareness about an epidemic afflicting at least 400,000 New Yorkers annually. The incidence of domestic violence is, in part, difficult to determine because it often goes unreported.
Executive Director of the Queens Family Justice Center Alexandra Patino explained that domestic violence constitutes more than physical assault by one intimate partner against another. It is, instead, a “pattern of conduct that is intended to control. It can start with berating someone, putting someone down, telling them they can’t take care of their children,” she said.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn thanked the purple-clad protesters assembled in the plaza on 103rd Street “because the way you end domestic violence … is by creating networks of people at the community level who will not tolerate it … Networks of people who will see something and say something.”
When members of the audience saw for themselves the melted flesh of domestic violence survivor Crusita Martinez, it brought some to tears.
Nine months ago, Martinez’s nightmare began when her abusive ex-boyfriend sprayed her face, arms, chest and leg with an acid mixture he had concocted from household items.
Translating Martinez’s words from Spanish, Ferreras said, “She asks that when you see her arms, when you see her face that you understand that you cannot remain silent. Please speak up.”
Martinez viewed her disfigurement not as a shameful end, but an empowering means by which to call compatriots to arms. “Do not even allow a man speak to you in the wrong way,” she counseled, “because those will be the beginning signs.”
In Ferreras’ estimation, Martinez was the “most beautiful woman in Corona” last Thursday.
Ferreras, as City Council chairperson of the Women’s Issues Committee, is devoted to improving women’s lives in the district’s immigrant community. When Ferreras welcomed her colleagues to the podium, Quinn and fellow Council Member Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) commended her for fighting in favor of and ultimately reinstating anti-domestic violence funding in the city’s budget.
Economics are a major factor contributing to domestic violence, in that women who cannot afford to leave their intimate partners continue to suffer in silence. Ferreras encouraged victims in the audience to contact one of the advocacy groups that had set up booths and distributed pamphlets in the plaza earlier. These associations, including Safe Horizon, Sanctuary for Families, the Violence Prevention Project, CONNECT NYC, the 115th Precinct Domestic Violence Unit and the New York Legal Assistance Group, provide refuge and information for battered women, helping to facilitate new, self-sufficient lives no matter what a woman’s immigration status may be. According to Grace Yoon, the executive director of Korean American Family Services Center, some victims may be eligible for monetary compensation by the New York State Crime Victims Board.
In Corona, as state Sen. Jose Peralta (D- Jackson Heights) acknowledged, “We have this cultural bias where men act very macho, especially in the Latin community.” Men may assume dominant positions, but “women play a vital role in the home. Women are our partners. And without women, we men are nothing.”
Peralta was disappointed that, in conjunction with victim demographics, his audience was predominantly female. “We need men to understand that they too play a role and that they must educate themselves in eliminating domestic violence,” said the senator, who has advocated for a domestic violence task force in the wake of a disturbing family murder case in Corona last winter, and in light of discouraging statistical trends.
Data from the Queens District Attorney’s Office indicates that the number of domestic violence incidents increased 18 percent last year.
“This is not just a woman’s issue,” Ferreras insisted. She believes it’s a family issue. When a woman suffers, her entire family does; her children may only perpetuate the cycle.
With that in mind, Ferreras asked council members and their male staffers to convene on the steps of City Hall the Thursday before Father’s Day. On June 17, 75 men took a pledge against domestic violence.
Residents of Corona, too, responded to Ferreras’ efforts, linking hands in a prayer led by Brother Ed of St. Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Church in East Elmhurst. Swaying to the plaintive voices of Fall and Spring Goldfeder in their wailing rendition of “Como Quien Pierde Una Estrella,” or “As One Who Loses a Star,” the crowd was united.
In the future, “We’re going to be thinking about other non-traditional ways of getting information out,” Ferreras said. She had already considered reaching out to barber and beauty shops in the neighborhood, who could broadcast her message against domestic violence to the community.
“Beauticians are like therapists in the 21st Council District,” she said.