•See related story, “Domestic Violence,” Page 3.
Despite a spate of rumors to the contrary, Berkeley’s Family Violence Law Center will not be closing its doors.
FVLC Executive Director, Julia Arno said on Thursday that she was concerned when she heard that many people thought the center would be moving to Oakland.
“Rumors come and go, but the Family Violence Law Center is still in Berkeley, and will remain there,” said Arno.
The center, which was founded in 1978, runs a number of programs to assist the victims of domestic violence, including help with acquiring restraining orders, regular support groups and an emergency hotline.
Arno said that she suspected rumors about the center’s move began when people saw a moving truck outside their Berkeley office. Several weeks ago, the FVLC opened another, temporary office at the old Oakland Army Base and several staff members are now based there.
But, she said, the new facility does not mean that the old one will close. The program, which has grown rapidly in the last few years, simply needs more room.
“The only reason we’ve moved is that we outgrew our current space,” said Arno. “But we own the Berkeley building, and we are deeply committed to serving Berkeley. We will always have space there.”
The FVLC said that in the year 2000 alone, it served 35 percent more families than it did in 1999.
In addition to legal help, the FVLC also runs a number of innovative programs that focus on domestic violence prevention. The center is one of the partners in a coalition of agencies that teaches students in the Oakland public school system to recognize patterns and symptoms of domestic violence.
The center also trains police officers in Berkeley and Oakland to deal more effectively in cases of domestic violence, and helps women who leave their abusers to find new employment and housing.
In a pamphlet put out by the FVLC, one victim of domestic violence credits the organization with saving her from living on the streets.
“At the time I sought the center’s help I was sleeping on the floor at the place where I worked,” she wrote. “I could not afford to maintain the cost of alternative shelter, nor could I return home, because I was terrified by the extent of my husband’s violence. If I had not been able to obtain help from the Law Center, I have no doubt that I would have eventually become homeless.”
Miriam Wong, coordinator of the Latina Women's Domestic Violence Support Group, said that the services provided by the FVLC in Alameda county, and especially in Berkeley, are crucial – especially given the dearth of women’s shelters.
“It’s very hard for women to get into shelters – there just isn’t enough space, especially in Berkeley,” she said.
Wong, who still runs a weekly support group for Latina women at the Berkeley site, said that in many cases, shelters and hotlines alone cannot meet the needs of women who are victims of domestic violence. Often, a more in-depth approach, like that provided by the FVLC, is needed.
She said that women who come to her support group often do so without their husband’s knowledge. They are continuing victims of violence, and it takes them time to realize that they have the power to end it.
“We talk about domestic violence, about how it has affected these women, and we also talk about related issues, like child abuse and mental health,” Wong said. “After a while, these women form clans, and it gives them the strength to take action to break the cycle.”
The Family Violence Law Center’s emergency helpline is 540-5354. Its regular business number is 540-5370.