In Kids & Family Commentary

Carmen Pitre is executive director of the Sojourner Family Peace Center.

Sojourner Family Peace Center works front lines of domestic violence

Somebody else.

Not me. Not my neighbor. Not my co-workers. Not my boss. Not Him! Not her!

That's one of the big issues when it comes to fighting domestic violence.

We never think that it can happen here, in our own backyard.

But it can and it does. There are no ethnic, economic or geographic restrictions. It can happen anywhere to anybody.

And it seems now as if there is a heightened awareness about domestic violence. The advocacy group has placed a number of television commercials featuring athletes and other celebrities with the tag line "No More."

In some measure it's a response to the handling by the National Football League of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident. Rice punched his fiancé in the face in an elevator and the whole thing was captured on video.

Television commercials are fine, but there is more that needs to be done and there is a growing awareness that there is an unquestionable link between domestic violence and some of the most serious issues facing Milwaukee – low graduation rates, bad behavior in schools, street violence and gang activity.

Carmen Pitre is the executive director of Sojourner Family Peace Center and is on the front lines of this battle. Pitre works closely with Kent Lovern, the chief deputy to District Attorney John Chisholm. Lovern has been a Sojourner board member for 15 years, ever since he handled domestic violence cases in the DA's office.

"Domestic violence is a multi-faceted problem that many people are living with, trying to figure out what to do or how to get out," Pitre says. "Children who grow up witnessing that kind of behavior and grow up into adults who don't know how to be in a relationship with someone else.

"What we are looking for is change," she adds. "We need to help children understand healthy relationships and domestic violence, work with kids who have witnessed violence, and help people who've lived in violence unravel the impact that this has had on them."

For Lovern, who deals with community violence on a daily basis, it's a matter of trying to find ways to prevent violent behavior, not just punish it.

"For me it's more kids going to school, less violence in our streets," he says. "More than 80 percent of our prison population reports they were victimized in their home or witnessed acts of violence. If that many people are telling us they grew up in violent households it's obvious. They are products of their environment, as we all are.

"This is not an excuse. But violent households are an incubator that manifests itself in public spaces – our playgrounds and streets."

There are no easy answers to helping break this cycle. But there is abundant evidence that something has to be done.

Sojourner, which is a shelter and a resource, handles between 8,500 and 9,000 cases per year. Last year they had 70,000 contacts and 22,000 calls to their hotline.

"And that is just scratching the tip of the iceberg," Pitre says. "I think there are more people who are struggling who need to be talking with someone.

"Violence in a household has an energy that impacts everyone in the family. There is tension and he hits the victim and the victim hits the child and the child kicks the dog.

Both Lovern and Pitre hold out great hope for a new, family centered, approach to helping from a new family peace center that's currently being constructed at 619 W. Walnut St.

The center will use the Family Justice Center Model and is scheduled to open this year.

Sojourner will be among the first in the nation to house comprehensive services for victims of domestic violence of all ages under one roof. In addition to the shelter and the hotline the center will have a more integrated system of services for adults and children who are impacted by domestic violence and child abuse.

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Police Department and the District Attorney's office will all have a presence at the center.

Milwaukee is a city beset by difficult and seemingly intransigent problems but one of the most horrifying, for so many of us, is the household violence that gets headlines every so often, but remains a plague that often flies under the radar.

One thing that the Sojourner Family Peace Center is doing is trying to both shine a light on the problem and provide a light at the end of the tunnel of violence for so many people.


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