With the highest rate of domestic violence homicides from 2010 to 2018, one Bronx resident is making sure people don’t forget how bad domestic violence is in the borough.
In October, a woman was killed by her ex-boyfriend in a shelter.
Heather Guerino, of Kingsbridge, is the president of Guerinos against Graffiti, runs a daycare and is also a domestic violence advocate.
Her involvement in domestic violence protection began in 2018 after reading about the murder of Lisa Marie Velasquez of Melrose. Velasquez was allegedly killed by her best friend’s boyfriend when she went to help her friend.
“I said ‘how can people be so cruel to do something to a beautiful kind young lady’,” she said.
According to Guerino, the biggest issues are the NYPD is not properly trained on how to handle domestic violence victims, victims aren’t given the best protection and family court and criminal court aren’t always on the same page.
“I wanted to advocate for victims of domestic violence that are not there to advocate for themselves,” Guerino commented.
She feels that the district attorney’s office should provide someone to be there for the victim in court, as the abuser is often waiting outside to attack them — verbally or physically.
“We need a lot more resources here in the Bronx,” Guerino said. “A lot of times victims of domestic violence are scared to go to court.”
She pointed out that abusers are able to manipulate the court and lead them to believe they live with the victim. Furthermore, Guerino said police officers are put in a tough spot when an abuser is given an order of protection by family court and allowed to return home by criminal court. An order of protection should always trump anything, she exclaimed.
“Why would any judge order an abuser back into the home with a victim?” she questioned.
Guerino said she would be remiss not to mention that many domestic violence victims live in shelters and right now are extremely susceptible to the coronavirus. She stressed they need to be given masks, gloves and disinfectant wipes.
“If there was more funding, then maybe the NYPD, non-profits and the DA, would protect victims better,” she said. More importantly, where are the elected officials?
“Our elected officials need to start taking domestic violence in the Bronx a lot more seriously,” she remarked.
Guerino has met with Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez, Senator Jamaal Bailey, members from the district attorney’s office and sent a letter to Commissioner of the NYC Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.
In May 2019, Governor Cuomo passed the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which offers more meaningful sentence reductions for domestic abuse survivors. This bill will allow judges to reduce prison sentences and redirect sentencing from incarceration to community-based programs.
In the past year Fernandez has passed several domestic violence victims bills, including the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would expand on alternative sentencing laws for domestic violence cases, allowing judge’s discretion to fully consider the impact of domestic violence when determining sentence lengths.