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NELCWIT speaker honors Women’s Day

Recorder/David Rainville
Sandy Staub, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Connecticut, speaks on the legal issues that face women who are victims of domestic violence. Staub's speech was part of the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition's International Women's Day event.

Recorder/David Rainville Sandy Staub, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Connecticut, speaks on the legal issues that face women who are victims of domestic violence. Staub's speech was part of the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition's International Women's Day event.

GREENFIELD — Legal reforms and increased advocacy have made strides to protect women from domestic violence, but there is still much to be done.

Sandy Staub, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Connecticut, spoke from her personal and professional experience, and drove that point home at the Friends of the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition’s International Women’s Day event at Greenfield Community College Thursday.

In her professional life, Staub has fought for victims of violence. In the 1980s and 1990s, she served on NELCWIT’s Board of Directors, eventually becoming its president. After graduating from Yale Law School, she went on to the become chief of the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office’s first domestic violence unit. She also put her law degree to use as NELCWIT’s legal counsel.

Her personal experience with domestic violence began before she was born. In 1959, Staub’s mother, already caring for five children, was afraid of the man she married and his violent ways. She was also afraid to leave him.

For the first 15 years of Staub’s life, she witnessed her father’s alcohol abuse, his mistreatment of her mother, and numerous police visits when things got out of hand.

It all ended in 1975, when her father took his own life.

“I was grieving over the loss of my father,” she said. “But I was also relieved, because he hadn’t taken my mother’s life.”

That year, she said, a group of Greenfield women were sewing the seeds that would grow into NELCWIT the next year.

Back then, said Staub, it was a different world, and domestic violence cases weren’t taken as seriously as they are today.

Though Staub’s family no longer had to put up with her father’s abuse, domestic violence was still prevalent in society.

In 1978, said Staub, Tracey Thurman, of Torrington, Conn., began receiving threats from her husband. Five years later, he came to her house, staying outside but making threats. Thurman called police, and 15 minutes later, with an officer yet to arrive, she went out to confront her spouse.

He stabbed her multiple times.

An officer showed up another 10 minutes later, said Staub, but didn’t arrest Thurman’s husband until he attacked her again, in front of the officer, while she lay on a stretcher, bound for the hospital.

Thurman sued the Torrington Police Department, saying that they deprived her of her right to equal protection under the law.

The case, said Staub, was instrumental in the passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.

“It brought about better laws, but didn’t eliminate domestic violence,” she said.

Though cases like Thurman’s were a step forward, others were a step in the wrong direction, said Staub. In 2000, the case of U.S. v. Morrison ruled against a provision in the Violence Against Women Act, which allowed victims to sue their attackers in federal court, even if no criminal charges were filed.

Domestic and sexual violence cases rarely make it to the nation’s highest court, advocates and social workers nationwide continue to help victims on a one-on-one basis.

NELCWIT counselor and advocate Zoraida Aguldelo shared her experience of working with one particular domestic violence victim.

“When I met Alicia, she had been traumatized so severely that she wasn’t able to help herself,” said Aguldelo.

She kept at it, and saw a woman that at first was afraid to leave her house regain her life, and go on to prosper.

“When I had no hope, and no ability to keep up with the pain, I went to NELCWIT,” said Alicia Wrisley. “I met Zoraida, and she’s been with me every step of the way. She advocated for me, provided transportation, and was my interpreter for therapy, and helped me with economical support when I needed it.”

“Most importantly, she gave me a choice, and empowered me,” she continued. “I found out I wasn’t alone, and that gave me the confidence to reach out. I was able to start a new life.”

She began to become independent. She enrolled in college, got her driver’s license and a car, and has gone on to get married, and buy a home. In June, she will graduate from GCC, and hopes to enroll in the college’s nursing program afterward.

She wants other abused women to know that they have options; they can begin anew.

“Many people don’t know about the resources they have access to,” she said. “We can save lives, and help women become survivors.”

The NELCWIT event, postponed from the March 7 International Women’s Day due to weather, serves as a fundraiser for NELCWIT.

“Six years ago, it began as a breakfast,” said Mary Kociela, of the Friends of NELCWIT, which organized the event.

Back then, she said, the group had to use the money raised to pay for the breakfast before putting what was left into the organization’s coffers.

“It started small,” she said. “But, six years later, we have enough sponsors to pay for the whole event, and everything we raise can go toward supporting our programs.”

Cheryl Rogers, president of NELCWIT’s Board of Directors, said the organization relies heavily on donations, and tries to collect $75,000 each year to supplement grant funding.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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