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Congressman Brian Higgins addresses the media. (Submitted photo)
Congressman Brian Higgins addresses the media. (Submitted photo)

Higgins, Poloncarz & Flynn announce $1 million in federal funding to combat domestic violence in Erie County


Tue, Nov 9th 2021 08:05 pm

Grant funds domestic violence prevention, support for elderly & disabled victims

Congressman Brian Higgins, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and District Attorney John Flynn announced a federal grant totaling $1 million awarded to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Funded by the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women, the grant is administered through the Improving Criminal Justice Responses to Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Grant program. The money will support a combined effort to fight domestic violence among elderly and disabled individuals.

“Victims of domestic violence experience unthinkable circumstances and, as a result, survivors often endure long-term trauma. Those who are older or have disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse,” Higgins said. “Critical federal funding from the Department of Justice will ensure that abusers are held accountable, and victims of all ages – as well as those with cognitive and physical challenges – receive the support and services they need.”

Poloncarz said, “This grant funding will help the Erie County Probation Department and our partners greatly in providing safety and support to victims of domestic violence while ensuring that offenders are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The coordinated response that will take place through the BE SAFE program brings stakeholders from around the domestic violence issue together in a collaboration that will raise awareness among all domestic violence system participants. The program recognizes that individuals with cognitive disabilities and the elderly can also be affected and need services, and will put a sharp focus on prosecuting these crimes. I thank Congressman Higgins for working to secure these funds for Erie County.”

Flynn said, “I want to thank the U.S. Department of Justice Office and the Office on Violence Against Women for providing this funding that will further enhance our collaborative efforts to protect and obtain justice for the victims of domestic violence in Erie County. The funding will support a multi-agency team who will work together to help the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse. In addition, this grant will allow us to provide specialized, trauma-informed training to ensure that all victims feel safe and willing to place their trust in us to hold these offenders accountable for their crimes.”

The grant provides funding for the Buffalo and Erie County Stopping Abuse in the Family Environment (BE SAFE) program. It is a collaborative, multiagency effort by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, the Erie County Department of Probation, Community Services for Every1, and the Center for Elder Law and Justice to combat domestic violence among the most vulnerable victims. In addition to holding offenders accountable and increasing victim safety, BE SAFE will provide enhanced support to domestic violence victims with cognitive disabilities. The program will also provide specialized training to law enforcement and the judiciary with an emphasis on protecting the elderly and people with disabilities from domestic abuse.

BE SAFE supports survivors of domestic violence by providing services such as legal advocacy, safety planning and counseling while simultaneously prosecuting offenders. An assistant district attorney and a confidential criminal investigator from the district attorney’s office will be assigned to focus specifically on the investigation and prosecution of felony domestic violence cases while working with an advocate to provide services that address the individualized needs of each victim.

To bolster the efforts of this multiagency coordinated program, the Erie County Probation Department will hire a domestic violence specific probation officer. Community Services for Every1 will hire a domestic violence care manager to serve as the primary point of contact for victim advocates, prosecutors and probation officers to coordinate care plans for survivors with disabilities.

Additionally, the program provides trauma-informed training for members of the legal and law enforcement communities on how to effectively investigate cases of elder abuse and abuse of people with disabilities and better protect these vulnerable populations from experiencing further harm.

Mindy Cervoni, president and CEO at Community Services for Every1, added, “Community Services for Every1 is grateful for the partnership with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office in the BE SAFE (Buffalo and Erie County Stopping Abuse in the Family Environment) effort. Through this partnership, we will broaden supports for disabled individuals who have been victims of domestic violence. We know the disabled population is three times more likely to experience rape, sexual assault, aggravated assault and robbery than those without disabilities. Providing support and advocacy to this population is our No. 1 goal. Community Services will also provide training and education on the intersection of domestic violence and disabilities to judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and court-based personnel. This coordinated response to domestic violence in Erie County through all of the partners, including Erie County Department of Probation and the Center for Elder Law and Justice, will provide increased victim safety and ensure supports are accessible to those in need.”

This year, the Office of Violence Against Women awarded more than $30 million in grants through the Improving Criminal Justice Responses to Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Grant. The program fosters victim safety and offender accountability in cases of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking by encouraging state, local and tribal governments to work collaboratively with community partners to identify problems and share ideas that result in more effective responses to these crimes.

Those in immediate danger are encouraged to call 911. A victim in crisis seeking assistance or information about resources in the community can call the New York State Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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