In Tompkins Square Park this weekend, T-shirts from victims of domestic abuse
Eight years ago, a woman was attacked at her son's 15th birthday party by a man with a machete. While her children watched, the man brutally swung, leaving her left hand and right arm nearly severed, and deep cuts on both legs.
The attacker was the children's father and the woman's ex-husband. Her son's birthday marked the fifth time the man violated his restraining order.
On Saturday, May 10, her T-shirt will be among those displayed at an event for domestic violence survivors in Tompkins Square Park, where victims of abuse will hang T-shirts with personal messages along the pathways. Known as the Clothesline Project, the event, organized by the Andrew Glover Youth Center, gives victims like this woman a platform to reach out to their community and speak out against violence.
"This event aligns with what we do at the Andrew Glover Youth Center, which has worked with the Lower East Side community since the 1970s to make our homes and communities safer for kids," said Jessica Hall, who works at the center and is co-coordinating the event with her colleague Elsie Flores. "We wanted our moms to have more support, and about a year ago we started a weekly group for our moms who have survived domestic violence. When I saw the Clothesline Project at a college campus, it made me think about our moms, so I brought it up at group and they loved the idea. The project has evolved from there."
Last year, the NYPD responded to 280,531 domestic violence incidents, and advocates of the city's domestic violence hotline answered 99,719 calls from victims. Three people died in Manhattan in family-related homicides. Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens had the highest number of family-related homicides, with 16 deaths in Brooklyn, 11 in the Bronx and four in Queens.
In recent years, the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence has expanded its services available to victims. The city opened a Family Justice Center in each of the boroughs, with the final facility in Staten Island scheduled to open in 2015. These centers are meant to consolidate civil, legal, and counseling services for victims in one place. In addition, the city has launched education programs and public awareness campaigns.
"This year, we've held 185 community outreach events since February," said Tracy Weber-Thomas, assistant commissioner of the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence. "We're focused on reaching out to our communities to let people going through domestic violence know that there's help out there, that they can call us, or walk into Family Justice Centers and get help."
Despite these efforts, many survivors of domestic violence feel the city is failing to provide enough support.
"What the system is doing, that's my problem," said the mother of five who survived the machete attack, and prefers to remain anonymous. "Eight years later, I'm watching my niece go through the same I thing I went through, and it's horrible. Before I was attacked, we were begging to get out. We didn't care where they put us...but the numbers that the city gave us didn't help. We called 1-800-HOPE, but where was the hope? They asked me to get rid of two kids because they could only accommodate three. So tell me, as a parent, what would you choose? Get rid of two kids? Run with all the kids? Or, stay there and die."
For those in unsafe living situations, long wait times for permanent public housing make things worse. Currently, the city has 2,228 beds specifically reserved for victims of domestic violence who need immediate shelter, designed as temporary relief to those in danger. While helpful, these shelters lack the resources to support victims and their families waiting for permanent housing. According to women who have lived through the process, the wait for more permanent public housing is three years.
According to the New York City Housing Authority, the complexity of the housing system, "variety of factors that comprise a family's profile, and low turnover and vacancy rates of apartments," make it "virtually impossible to establish an average waiting time?Some applicants can be matched up with an available apartment in months, while others often have to wait years."
To learn more about these women and their stories, visit the Tompkins Square Clothesline Project Saturday May 10th between 11am to 2pm. Those interested in supporting the project can contact the Andrew Glover Youth Center about donating shirts for survivors of domestic violence to share their messages.