Domestic violence toward a spouse, parent or child is probably the most unreported crime in the United States. “Victims transcend all socioeconomic levels, and there are many reasons why they may not feel comfortable or able to report the abuse, including fear of retaliation, concerns regarding children and their custody and safety, cultural concerns, financial concerns, and immigration and deportation concerns among others,” says attorney and Pace Women’s Justice Center (PWJC) director of training, outreach and education Susan Carroll. “That’s why the Women’s Justice Center was formed in 1991 as the first of its kind in the nation.”
Originally called the Battered Women’s Justice Center by the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo as a joint partnership with the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Pace University School of Law (the PWJC renaming came in 1998), the mission throughout has been to pursue justice for victims and prevent abuse through legal services, community partnerships, education and awareness.
It is awareness where the White Plains Public Library plays a role. Twice monthly, PWJC has an information desk in the lobby as a first step in giving guidance. “The Library is a crossroads that enables people to learn who we are and what we do,” says Carroll. “PWJC provides free legal services to over 3,000 victims and survivors of domestic violence and elder abuse annually. We respond to almost 2,000 ‘Helpline’ callers with legal information and referrals, and train thousands of legal and law enforcement professionals and members of the community. We are able to help as many people as we do by leveraging our resources and engaging volunteer attorneys and other members of our community, including students.”
Although PWJC is part of Pace University in White Plains, it functions as what Carroll calls “a small, independent nonprofit responsible for raising all of our own support.”
On October 19, the 25th anniversary will be commemorated by a gala dinner at the Glen Island Harbour Club in New Rochelle. The Westchester Women’s Bar Association will receive the “Making a Difference Award,” and current PWJC executive director Cindy Kanusher will salute her four predecessors: Michael Dowd (founder), Vicki Lutz, Susan Pollet and Jane Aoyama-Martin.
Under Pollet, PWJC was first awarded a federal grant by the Justice Department under the Violence Against Women Act to provide free legal service to members of the Westchester community who have been abused. Under Aoyama-Martin, PWJC expanded with more services being provided to Putnam County.
PWJC provides free on-site walk in clinics at the Family Courts in White Plains and Yonkers and also provides services in the Family Court in New Rochelle. This year, under Kanusher, PWJC was awarded a grant by the local chapter of Impact100 to create another free walk-in-clinic at the main office in Pace Law School.
PWJC campus headquarters are called “Gail’s House” in honor of the late Gail Katz Bierenbaum, who was murdered by her husband, Dr. Robert Bierenbaum, in 1985. He was convicted in 2000 and is now serving a 20-years-to-life sentence.
Gail’s House is the dinner’s beneficiary. For further information, including registration, go to http://www.law.pace.edu/2016-making-difference-benefit-dinner.
Upcoming PWJC Library dates are October 20, November 3 and November 17—all Thursdays, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. “We really do feel fortunate to have this partnership with the White Plains Public Library,” says Carroll, “and we appreciate the resources it provides to the White Plains and Westchester community in every sense of the word.”