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Family Justice Center dedicates Grand Island location

Trinity United Methodist Church

The Family Justice Center of Erie County will dedicate its new permanent satellite office on Grand Island Saturday -- and it is expected to be busy when fully open by September.

The Family Justice Center has been strongly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. CEO Mary Murphy said officials expected an increase in calls for help, as the pandemic forced victims and their abusers into quarantine-like situations, but she did not expect the "skyrocketing jump" in hotline calls that happened.

"A 74% increase. And I will tell you, that 74% increase continues today," Murphy said. "We saw 4,500 cases last year. In an average year, we'll maybe see close to 3,000."

And in most cases, she said, danger or death was imminent.

Counselors were not considered essential workers at the start of the pandemic, so they "had to figure out how to offer their services remotely." Murphy said it turns out that clients like it, not having to get in their car and drive downtown.

She said the new Grand Island location will be staffed by 1-2 full-time staff and volunteers and offer all of the center's services, including filing charges, its forensic medical unit and securing an order of protection via teleconferencing.

It is a home on the property of the Trinity United Methodist Church, at 2100 Whitehaven Rd., that is being leased to the center for $1 a year.

"We raised $100,000 in the snap of a finger. No government money was used," she said. "We renovated it, top to bottom, over the last several months. We had volunteers in every manner of building renovation and expertise."

Murphy said a temporary satellite office operated a couple of days per week at a Grand Island doctor's office from June 2018-March 2020, but it closed when the pandemic began. In addition to its main office in downtown Buffalo, the center has satellites in Orchard Park and Williamsville.

She said abuse stems from control and when warning signs appear, the community needs to feel comfortable talking about a relationship in trouble.

"The controller is very good at manipulating and breaking down their victim, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, financially, through social media, and brainwashing victims that they're the cause," Murphy said. "That's why this is tricky and dangerous business. And we know the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the abuser is losing control. That's when they can accelerate very quickly into serious violence and death."

Mark Wozniak, WBFO's local All Things Considered host, has been at WBFO since mid-1978.
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