Hundreds of professionals gathered for a conference on domestic violence at York College last week and despite years of experience in the field many voiced the same question: Why don't they leave?
"They stay because they believe their partner loves them, they stay because they believe they have nowhere to go," said Sally Price, the co-chairwoman of the borough president's Task Force on Sexual and Domestic Violence.
Social workers, counselors, teachers and members of the community attended last Thursday's annual domestic violence conference entitled "Domestic Violence: The Price We Pay."
"I was reminded again and again if I tried to leave, I would never see my children again," said Francine Knox, one of three survivors of abusive relationships who addressed the conference and took questions from the crowd. "Where was I going to go?"
Knox, who was in a physically abusive marriage for 18 years, spoke about why it was so hard to leave and how she eventually managed to break free.
"I knew if I tried to leave I would be at my most dangerous point," she said.
Knox said her family's intervention helped her realize that she would die if she did not leave, and so she decided if she could not get away from her now ex-husband the Queens Women's Network, based in Jamaica, and has been receiving counseling and attending support groups ever since.
But Knox and her family are not without their scars. She said her oldest son suffers from schizophrenia and her daughter is now in an abusive relationship.
"She is not ready to leave him," Knox said tearfully.
But her 15-year-old son is doing well and is a student at a Queens high school.
Another woman who did not wish to be identified said she was in an abusive marriage for seven years with a New York City police officer and that finding help in the law enforcement community was nearly impossible because of her husband's police connections.
"The basic common denominator is that nobody has a right to abuse anybody," said Borough President Claire Shulman in her address to the conference.
"Government, law enforcement and our not-for-profit community have forged a partnership to confront and combat the epidemic," said Shulman.
York College President Charles Kidd said domestic violence is a major concern on a campus where 70 percent of the student population are women.
"I wish you weren't here for the reasons you are here," said Kidd, implying that he was disturbed by the fact that domestic violence is an issue in society. "I wish we were meeting about something else."
U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Rego Park) was expected to attend, but had to be in Washington, D.C. for budget votes.
Patricia Keegan, Lowey's district director, said federal money has helped Queens District Attorney Richard Brown more than double his rate of conviction in domestic abuse cases by providing the office with technology such as ankle bracelets, which can trace an individual's movement.
"So many battered women suffer in silence and in shame," said Keegan.
The Task Force on Domestic and Sexual Violence meets the fourth Wednesday of every month at Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.
Reach reporter Bryan Schwartzman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.