Domestic violence usually happens behind closed doors, but local officials say the effects have a tendency to ripple through a community.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, joined by county Chief Assistant District Attorney David Rossi, recognized the start of Domestic Violence Awareness Month on Wednesday, Oct. 2, and honored county Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center Director Karen Ziegler for her efforts to support victims and combat violent crime.
The county’s White Ribbon Campaign event was also announced. It will occur on Friday, Nov. 8, at the Times Union Center during the Siena and University at Albany basketball games.
“It is all about education and it’s letting people know what is going on and the great work we do here in Albany County” McCoy said. “Our Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center is open every day, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”
Last year, the county Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center handled more than 28,000 calls through its sexual assault hotline (447-7716). Services provided to victims included visiting emergency rooms to comfort victims, providing information and referral for services, along with advocacy.
“We want to protect our people here in Albany County, but it is about everybody. You want to make sure that someone has that safety net to fall back on,” McCoy said.
McCoy said his partnerships with District Attorney David Soares and county Sheriff Craig Apple have allowed the county to provide necessary services amid tight budgets.
Rossi said the most common thing victims of domestic violence say is, “I never thought it would go that far.” He said the family members of domestic violence homicides most often say the same thing.
There are more District Attorney’s Office staff members dedicated to cases of domestic violence than ever before, according to Rossi, but the community needs to play its part.
“We can never have the impact that we want to have if we don’t have the help of the community,” Rossi said. “Domestic violence is not a private problem that only affects those behind closed doors. Domestic violence is a cancer to a community. It starts with the perpetrator, it spreads to the victim, to the children, to the neighborhoods, to the schools, to the family and to the entire community.”
In 1974, the center began as Albany Women Against Rape, or AWARE, and the following year the agency became a county department. The original intent was to provide crisis counseling to rape victims through a 24-hour hotline, along with advocacy and support. The department did community outreach to publicize the frequency of rape and its effects.
The agency grew over the years and in 1989 received a grant from the state Crime Victims Board to provide advocacy services for violent crime victims throughout the county. The agency merged its victim assistance program and rape crisis center in 2001, forming the current department.
“I cannot say enough about the staff here at Albany County and the dedication that they have,” McCoy said. “They don’t do it for the pay check. They do it because they believe in what they are doing. … That means a lot when they are either answering a phone or dealing with a victim to have someone that really has that compassion and care.”
McCoy said Ziegler has stressed the importance of her department to him as budgets are crafted to ensure services remain unchanged.
“You do inspire me with what you do in that office,” McCoy said to Ziegler.
Ziegler said the work done by the department requires support from the county and strong partnerships.
Ziegler announced the county will be launching a new initiative in December, “Be the Difference,” which aims to train one staff member from each of the county’s larger departments about effectively addressing domestic violence.
McCoy said he hopes the county will be able to impart lasting change, “so the next generation doesn’t think it is okay to sexually assault someone … or (be) violent towards other people.”