GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Sgt. Nick Erman, of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, was working a domestic violence case this past year that included stalking, harassment, restraining orders, threats of self-harm by the perpetrator, weapons forfeiture and more.
What he didn’t know until much later was that the woman who was suffering at the hands of her ex-boyfriend had barely escaped a bullet meant to take her life, and that it could have happened again if police had not monitored the situation closely.
“I realized that this could have turned into a homicide,” Erman told a room full of attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement, health professionals, social workers, advocates and program educators Monday.
An average of three women are murdered by a current or former intimate partner every day in the U.S., statistics show.
Efforts to stop and decrease domestic violence at the local level have made an impact, experts say, but Atlantic and Cape May county professionals who attended the Superior Court of New Jersey-Atlantic and Cape May Counties’ Domestic Violence Awareness conference said much more needs to be done.
“Some of them make it out, and some don’t,” said Martina Singleton, program coordinator and counselor at Coalition Against Rape and Abuse in Cape May County. “We still have a lot of work to do. For all of those that come together and brainstorm, let’s see how we can reach those people we can’t see.”
About 160 professionals from a wide spectrum of services attended the conference, held at Stockton University, to share information, resources, first-hand experience and ideas on how to tackle domestic violence in South Jersey.
The Press of Atlantic City published ”Breaking the Cycle,” an ongoing series focused on domestic violence in South Jersey, in March 2017. Press reporters and editors spoke on a panel at Monday’s event.
Nicole Morella, director of public policy and communications at the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said domestic violence is in every community, affecting people of every race, gender and sexual identity.
Although women are disproportionately victims, men also suffer abuse, which can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial, isolating or involve children. Understanding what victims go through and what leads to a domestic violence assault or incident is crucial in order to create solutions, she said.
For some, it was a familiar issue they had become accustomed to in their lines of work. For others, it was an eye-opener, especially hearing from people such as Erman and from Valeria Marcus, 64, of Atlantic City, a survivor of child abuse and childhood domestic violence.
“I barely made it past the age of 8,” Marcus said. “My father had alcoholic rages. My home was a war zone. I had to be alert 24 hours a day. As a child, I felt fear, shame, dirty, unloved and suicidal. Outside of my home, I was living a lie. I was wearing a mask, because I couldn’t comprehend the chaos.”
Marcus recalled how hard it was for her and her family to live under the threat of physical, emotional and sexual abuse from her father, how teachers, neighbors and others failed to notice the red flags that signaled something may have been wrong, how the abuse affected her adult relationships later in life.
She called on experts and communities to better educate children about abuse in the hopes it might save a child and family from what she went through.
Other speakers representing municipal and Superior courts, public defender offices, family attorney offices, prosecutor’s offices and the Atlantic County Women’s Center, which will soon be renamed, also presented at the conference.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner, sitting alongside Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland, said he saw how prevalent domestic violence was when he was a Superior Court judge presiding over marriages, domestic violence cases and other legal areas.
“There was a situation where a couple came in, and I looked at these people and the woman looked really afraid, but I got it done and performed the marriage,” he said. “One week later, I was looking at the domestic violence docket list and saw their names, the couple I had just married a week before.
“She was in court seeking a restraining order and had a bruise on her eye. Thereafter, every time I was assigned a marriage, I talked to them separately to ask about their relationship. I really carried that with me for a long time. You don’t know when domestic violence will show up in your line of work.”