Clothesline project comes to Port Jervis

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PORT JERVIS – Dozens of t-shirts swayed on clotheslines strung across Port Jervis’ historic Veterans Park. Each provided a glimpse of violence endured by victims of domestic abuse in Orange and Sullivan counties.

Messages and drawings told of personal impact as well as encouraged and offered hope for others.

Thirty-six white shirts carried names and dates remembering Orange and Sullivan County victims of domestic homicide since 2004.

“Love doesn’t mean you can hit me.” “Things can be hard but you can live a life in peace when you’re ready to leave.” “Beating Hitting Hurting Destroying Pain.  Suffering. Abuse. Broken. Smashed. Does this sound like love to you?”

Hosted by Fearless! Hudson Valley, the Clothesline Project is part of a mission of help for victims living through Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking, Sexual Assault, Teen Dating Violence and more.  It’s about understanding survivors, helping to find safe solutions for individuals, and staying Fearless as advocates, and engaging communities to help.

“Domestic abuse is always about control, entitlement, and allowing power and control over an intimate partner.  It starts when control is being challenged, and escalates,” explained Pamela O’Dea, collaborative programs director for FHV. “We help victims try to identify a potential lethality, what happens before warning signs could become fatal.  We listen to what safety means to them and their partner and help to find the next right step for each person to take.”

O’Dea urged anyone in need of help to call the Fearless! 24-hour Domestic Abuse crisis hotline at 845-562-5340.  Trained advocates are available with support and a safety system to help and guide them, including responding to calls for help, listening and helping to find safe solutions, representing victim positions in court, and providing shelter. Current shelter space serves up to 17 individuals, and a second shelter for 20 will open in the near future.

Port Jervis Police Chief William Worden said he supports the work of FHV completely and feels the program should become universal.  With 450 incidents of domestic abuse in Port Jervis just in the last year, and multiple homicides in recent history, collaborative help is greatly encouraged in addressing the issue.

“The Clothesline Project offers high visibility and represents the range of each tragic story.  From resilience and survivorship to tragedy and death, domestic violence is serious.  This project brings awareness about a societal problem.  It takes a community to stop that control and end violence,” Worden said.

Port Jervis is part of a model program and grant to help. They city has a full-time advocate with the Risk Reduction Response Program.  Project Coordinator Scott Gangemi has full access to the station, responds with patrols to domestic abuse calls, and works directly with victims to help them find a safe solution that works for them.

Megan Ruiz, now the director of Sullivan County’s Sexual Assault Services Program, held this position until recently.  She, along with O’Dea, Gangemi, and Worden, urges anyone experiencing domestic abuse to call Fearless! at the 24-hour crisis hotline number (845-562-5340) or Port Jervis Police Department (845-856-5101) where staff are trained and always ready to help.

“We have highly trained people to provide resources right here in Port Jervis. We’re here to support, not force,” Ruiz said. “It is each person’s decision as to what they feel is safe, and what is best for their situation.”

Worden praised the Fearless! program, its advocates, services, and resources.

“This program should be universal. It helps us to help survivors and hold offenders accountable,” Worden said. “Fearless! also helps to train our staff and provide the latest tools and public awareness. We are all here to help.”

O’Dea noted that victims need to know that the burden of accountability is not on a victim but on the law.

“It is not on victims to prosecute a crime that is against the laws of our community and the State of New York. This burden is lifted off of a victim,” O’Dea said.

While addressing abuse, O’Dea said a big part of the program’s mission is also education.  The agency offers workshops, educational programs, outreach, and goes into schools to teach students and others about jealousy, controlling, and what a healthy relationship looks like.

How can you help?  FHV offers the following:

Things To Do: Listen without judgment, believe the person, remember that you cannot ’rescue’ them, educate yourself, encourage the person to call Fearless!! Hotline for help, support and do not abandon them.

Words To Say: This is not your fault. I am sorry this is happening to you. You have the right to be safe.  You don’t deserve to be treated this way. I care about you.

Questions To Ask: Is someone hurting you? Did someone hurt you? Do you dread being alone with your partner? What do you need to be safe right now? How can I support you?

To refer for help: Fearless! 845-562-5340, Port Jervis Police 845-856-5101