Women Shaping History:
Commisioner Yolanda Jimenez:
Combating Domestic Violence
Yolanda B. Jimenez, a long-time public servant devoted to crime prevention policies and programs, is cautiously optimistic about the initiatives she has been advancing since the Mayor appointed her in 2002 to serve as Commissioner of the Office to Combat Domestic Violence. The agency was established in November 2001 to analyze, coordinate and dispense services related to victims of domestic abuse. The Commissioner has a long and dedicated record working in law enforcement and social services and solid knowledge of New York City. Coming to The United States as a young child from Colombia, she attended public schools in Queens, then Queens College, where she earned a B.A. and M.A. in Political Science, and then went on for additional graduate study at The Police Management Institute Program at Columbia University.
Though she originally thought she might want to be a lawyer, it took only a summer internship working for then Mayor Ed Koch some years ago to convince Yolanda Jimenez that she should pursue a professional career in social service. The statistics, she knew, were horrific, but the challenge was great, and the rewards inestimable. She recalls a family she once counseled who, so moved by her assistance, gave her a box of cannolis. The gesture was an eye-and soul-opener for her. She was just doing her job, she thought, but she realized how important a job it was to others. Her parents as well as an encouraging third-grade teacher, had taught her to revere education and to act for the community. She has never forgotten those lessons, and indeed, partnering, connecting with other agencies, other professionals, is at the core of what she does as Commissioner.
Her office receives over 600 reports a day regarding domestic violence, and the hotline itself gets 400 calls daily. Only by coordination of services and resources can such volume be dealt with. Every single call is investigated she points out, not all calls, incidentally, are from women, and not all of them reflective of abuse in intimate relationships. “Domestic violence,” the Commissioner points out, covers not just abuse between men and women but also children against the elderly, adults against the young, and though the overwhelming number of callers are poor, her office also receives complaints from so-called Park Avenue victims. The numbers are depressing, but the Commissioner notes that victims of domestic violence seem to be opening up more these day, are more willing to talk, to seek help and to show up at the new federally funded Family Justice Center in Brooklyn. The center, which opened last year, has made possible one-stop service, providing victims of domestic violence with legal assistance and counseling, help with public assistance and shelter, filing a police report or confiding in a clergy member. The multilingual center allows clients to access any or all of these services under one roof “while their child plays in the next room.”
A soft-spoken woman, Yolanda Jimenez says that what most impresses her about her office is the “passionate dedication” of those who work there. Her manner is positive. Where others might focus only on the horrors of domestic abuse, the Commissioner is joining religious, ethnic, civic and educational institutions wherever she can, using trained peers to talk to peers and stressing healthy relationships as well as warning signs. If a woman’s boyfriend calls her beeper 20-30 times a day, for example, that’s not a good sign, the woman is being monitored, controlled. Abuse can be verbal as well as overtly physical. But of course, as the Commissioner well knows, educating young people about domestic violence is difficult. The baleful influence of rap lyrics that condone, even encourage, abuse is a disgrace. Increasing public awareness is critical. The Commissioner is particularly pleased to be the keynote speaker at Hostos Community College’s graduation Ceremonies this June, where she will ensure that the work of her office is recognized and supported. Meanwhile, those interested in serving as volunteers for the Family Justice Center should call (212) 788-3156, and those in need of assistance can call the 24-hour hotline 1-800-621-HOPE. Cell phone users should also know that if they donate their phones to Verizon Wireless, a partner in domestic violence prevention, all proceeds will go to the cause.#