Her case shook our community to the core
There was a tragic case in 2016 that shook our community to the core. “Angela” was brutally assaulted and left in her apartment. She was found three days later and rushed to the hospital. Having experienced severe brain damage, Angela cannot walk and cannot talk. At the time, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office called for a gathering of service providers for an in-person discussion about how best to support this survivor and her family. Women Aware and our partners left that first meeting knowing we had to do better, and could do better, to move victim-survivors beyond abuse.
Shortly thereafter, Women Aware, in partnership with the Prosecutor’s Office, hosted a meeting for community service providers and court personnel to introduce the concept of the Family Justice Center model, which was created by the Alliance for HOPE International. The idea was well received. In 2019, Women Aware started laying the groundwork to establish a Family Justice Center. The initiative started with the co-location of Women Aware’s Legal Advocacy Department with the Prosecutor’s Victim Advocacy Unit.
From there, Women Aware contracted with the Alliance for HOPE, a partnership that led to a 100-person Community Forum and three-day study tour in February 2020 to discuss the need to strengthen our county’s coordinated community response to domestic violence and sexual assault. Next came a two-day Strategic Planning Conference in May 2021 with stakeholders that included survivors, elected officials, domestic violence services, law enforcement, the judiciary, legal services, immigration services, human services, housing providers, sexual assault services, employment services, and more.
The Prosecutor’s Office secured a one-year grant to fund space for the new FJC on the 4th Floor at 100 Bayard Street in New Brunswick. The Middlesex County Family Justice Center opened its doors in December 2020 as the fifth Family Justice Center in the State of New Jersey. Mildred Torres was named Director in July 2021. In October 2021, Women Aware secured a four-year $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Violence Against Women Improving Criminal Justice Responses to Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Grant Program (ICJR).
Partners with Women Aware in the Family Justice Center are Middlesex County (the Middlesex County Office of Human Services, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, the Middlesex County Center for Empowerment, and REPLENISH), Central Jersey Legal Services, Jewish Family Services, Partners (formerly Partners for Women and Justice), American Friends Service Committee, Middlesex County Board of Social Services, NJ DCF Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Coming Home of Middlesex County, Manavi, Town Clock Community Development Corporation, A Partnership for Change, Middlesex County Family Court, and Dress for Success Central Jersey.