This October, our entire community felt the ripple effect of domestic violence as an active shooter led police on a car chase across the city, targeting his family. Schools were put on lockout, parents panicked, neighbors heard shots fired close to their homes, and we all felt the danger of domestic violence. We know that the majority (54%) of mass shootings are related to domestic violence. That day was terrifying, heartbreaking and a solemn reminder of Willow’s purpose – to prevent this from happening. Everyone deserves to be safe. We are committed to promoting safety for survivors, families, neighborhoods, and communities. Every day.

Our hearts go out to all of the family members and loved ones of those impacted, and we mourn the lives lost. The homicide victim, Antonae Lopez, was a mother, a daughter, and a friend. Her light was extinguished by domestic violence, like so many others before her.

This September marked 6 years since the murder of Alex Kogut, a young student at Brockport beaten to death by her exboyfriend. This December will mark one year since the murder of Syreeta Knight, a loving mother of two young men who are just starting college and trying to carry on without her.

In 2017, we witnessed 8 domestic violence homicides in Monroe County. On the same day of the homicide, while this tragedy was unfolding, Willow also took a call from a woman hiding from her abuser, afraid for her life. Staff supported her while calling the police. Her abuser was arrested, and she is now safe in our shelter. For every story that makes it to the paper, for every tragic homicide we must bear witness to, there are thousands more survivors that find safety, hope and healing at Willow. The High Risk team is a group of professionals from law enforcement, the district attorney’s office, service providers, Willow, advocates and social workers. When any one of us is alerted to a heightened risk from an individual survivor, we gather to assess what we know, and to make a safety plan around the individual.

If we know an abuser is particularly dangerous, we figure out a plan with the survivor to enhance their safety. It may mean coming into our shelter or leaving town, but we do everything we can to protect those who are at high risk.

Last year, we had a case where the child was taken by her father across state lines just before the mother had served his papers and so it seemed our hands were tied. We knew he was dangerous and had documentation of his threats to the child and the mother. Law enforcement, the DA, the FBI, and our advocates worked tirelessly with the courts and law enforcement across the country to bring this child back to her mother. It was through careful monitoring of his social media feed that local police were able to document reckless endangerment of a child and other criminal acts, and bring him in to court. But it wasn’t over yet. The mother had to stand in court in that state to gain sole custody. She had depleted her savings in court battles and was at her wits end. Yet she wasn’t alone.

Willow found the resources to fly the mother across the country, to serve the papers, stand in court, and bring her child home. The abuser is in jail. The mom and child are safe here in Penfield. This collaboration saves lives.

This is something to celebrate. Every day we witness the impact of our work together to support survivors and their families. We are saving lives.

And yet, we as a community must do more to prevent domestic violence, protect survivors and strengthen offender accountability.
At the beginning of October each year, we release an updated Domestic Violence Report to the Community. Let me share with you the 2018 Report highlights:

• There were 4,867 reports of domestic violence made last year in Monroe County – these are reports by Law Enforcement agencies in 4 categories: aggravated assault, simple assault, sex offense, and order of protection violation.

• 54% of reports came from our City and 46% from our suburbs

• 46,446 calls were made to Monroe County 911 dispatch last year that were classified as domestic disputes.

• 3,555 orders of protection were filed, above the 10 year average of 3,300, with 1,069 final orders of protection granted.

• In 2017, Willow Center received 5,590 calls to our emergency hotline, higher than
previous years. Willow answers nearly 30 calls each day, on average.

• Monroe County rates of domestic violence are 1.6 times the statewide rate, excluding NYC. Rochester rates are 3 times as high as the statewide rate. The City of Rochester rates are higher than they’ve been in 5 years. Why?
In the coming months, we will dig deeper into the data to understand HOW we can do better. How we can work smarter and harder, together, to protect survivors in our community. Is it a resource issue? Is there a larger trend driving the data?
Are we seeing the impact of the #metoo movement bringing light to this issue? As we become more visible in our support of survivors, as a community, and share information and resources, we expect the numbers to continue to rise.

And as survivors come forward, it takes every one of us to know how to respond and refer, to know how to step up and support if your colleague, neighbor, friend, family member, student, or employee is experiencing abuse.
If you’d like more information on how to identify the red flags of abuse and how to help someone in your life, please visit Willow’s website at

We must increase our prevention efforts to show our young people what healthy relationships look like – and the red flags of dangerous relationships – before it’s too late. We must learn how to talk about relationship abuse with our children and remember to check in with our friends. Willow’s website offers tools for conversations and safety planning.
We are here for survivors. We are just a phone call away, 24/7, at 585-222-SAFE (7233).

We offer free and confidential services, and serve as a resource and referral to the many agencies doing this life-saving work with us. If you or anyone you know is in an abusive relationship, please remember this number: 222-SAFE.