LOWELL – Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor, and Isa Woldeguiorguis, Executive Director of The Center for Hope and Healing, joined more than two dozen partner agencies today to announce a two-pronged approach to help victims of domestic violence in Lowell’s immigrant and refugee communities: an interfaith clergy initiative that forges partnerships with religious leaders to identify and better respond to domestic violence, and a research study with UMass/Lowell to determine the barriers that exist for reporting abuse and accessing services in certain populations. This project, the Refugee and Immigrant Support Coalition (RISC), will be funded with a $50,000 grant from the Department of Public Health and the grant will be administered by The Center for Hope and Healing.
“We know what people do when they are in trouble, they turn to clergy,” said District Attorney Ryan. “So this new initiative is meant to supplement traditional access points to services for domestic violence victims. We are going to seek to educate members of the clergy so they know the range of services available to help victims.”
Lowell Police Superintendent Taylor added, “Collaborative efforts will make us be most successful in reaching vulnerable populations. The Lowell Police Department is committed to developing partnerships with the clergy so barriers preventing victims from coming forward will be broken down, such as, fear of authority, language differences, and someone’s immigrant status.”
Today’s announcement was held at the Lowell National Historical Park in Lowell, a symbolic setting said District Attorney Ryan because, “Most of the workers in the manufacturing mills were new arrivals who had come to this country for rights, for protection, for freedom, and for the ability to access services they could not get in their native countries.” Members from more than 15 churches, temples, and religious centers were present for today’s announcement along with members of the Greater Lowell law enforcement community, and partners from 28 public, nonprofit, and private agencies which are members of the Greater Lowell Evaluation and Advocacy Network (GLEAN).
GLEAN was formed in 2012 by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, the Lowell Police Department, and Alternative House to serve as a high-risk assessment and rapid response team with the goal of preventing domestic violence homicides.
The grant will be used to engage and partner with clergy leaders in raising awareness with immigrant communities about the legal rights and resources available to them, and to conduct research that will help to inform the practices of law enforcement and other stakeholders in addressing domestic violence in immigrant communities.
During today’s news conference, collaboration among entities and across disciplines was stressed by those who spoke during the program. “We cannot keep people safe without relationships with each other,” said Isa Woldeguiorguis, Executive Director, The Center for Hope and Healing. Rev. Traci Jackson Antoine, with the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, directed her comments at her religious colleagues: “You have got to be a bridge and not a barrier for domestic violence victims. You need to be a ‘warm referral’ for victims because you know family dynamics.”
Middlesex County demographics continue to reflect a trend of newcomers from overseas nations. Close to 20% of the county’s population is foreign-born, 5% above the state average. Twenty-five percent of households in Middlesex County speak a language other than English at home. Of the 10 most populated immigrant communities in the state, half are in Middlesex County, including Lowell. Lowell has the second largest Cambodian population in the United States, as well as large Vietnamese, Brazilian and Kenyan communities.
GLEAN partner agencies include:
Middlesex District Attorney’s Office
Lowell Police Department
Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence
Center for Hope and Healing
International Institute of New England
Northeast Legal Aid
Lowell District Court Probation Department
Lowell Superior Court Probation Department
Middlesex Family and Probate Court Probation Department
Lowell Housing Authority
Lowell Senior Center
Lowell Alliance for Families and Neighborhoods
Lowell National Historical Park, Law Enforcement Division
Department of Children and Families
Community Teamwork Inc.
Lowell Community Health Center
Holy Family Hospital (Family Safety Project)
Mental Health Association of Greater Lowell, Inc.
Greater Lowell Health Alliance
MSPCC Healthy Families Lowell
Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance
Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Greater Lowell Technical High School
Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers
Massachusetts Parole Board
Middlesex Sheriff’s Office
Massachusetts Department of Correction