The herstory of NYSCADV parallels the herstories of other programs and organizations within the domestic violence movement: the struggles for adequate funding, defining the vision, fighting for legal rights and entitlements, incorporating new vision and theories, and striving for inclusiveness and diversity within the movement. We take pride in our record of meeting challenges from both within and outside of the organization in a way that consistently, steadily, painfully, and exuberantly fights intimate partner violence.
NYSCADV was conceived during a conference at Syracuse University in 1978. The purpose of the conference was to provide education in working with women who were abused, and to develop a statewide network. Local and regional networks eventually came together in a statewide coalition, which held its first meeting attended by six people in Greene County.
During the early days, NYSCADV struggled hard to define its purpose and goals. Behind the long discussions and philosophical debates, the work of coalition building flourished: programs were networking with one another, comparing various struggles with law enforcement and family courts, sharing notes on fundraising, blending the voices of women who were abused with the advocates working to help them.
In 1979 the trial of Bernadette Powell, a black woman being tried by an all-white jury for the murder of her abusive husband, mobilized NYSCADV into its first event. Coalition members went to Albany to witness the trial, packing the courtroom to protest the unjust treatment of women who are abused that kill their husbands in self-defense. Tragically, the defense was unsuccessful in introducing testimony that sufficiently explained the dynamics of domestic violence, and Bernadette Powell was sentenced to serve time at Bedford Hills Correctional Institute.
During the late seventies, NYSCADV grew with the help of feminists and visionaries who believed in our work. VISTA workers assigned to the Governor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence gave staff time to the work of organizing and incorporating NYSCADV. Pam Daniels, Candy Butcher-Fuller and others in the New York State Department of Social Services (DSS) encouraged us to seek funding. Marjorie Fields attended Coalition meetings and provided inspiration. In 1981, NYSCADV was awarded $67,000 from DSS to develop a hotline and organize a network.
Once the basic organizational framework was in place, NYSCADV began to look at issues that continue to pose the greatest challenges for the membership and the board: issues of inclusiveness, diversity, and response to the needs of all regions of the state. In 1983-84, the board recognized the need for diversity and committed itself to bringing survivors and women of color onto the board. In 1985, NYSCADV started the Spanish hotline. The objective of inclusiveness has not come easily, and the formation of task forces has been an important step in challenging the status quo of traditional leadership.
The Women of Color Task Force, initiated in 1985-86, paved the way for the Task Force for Battered and Formerly Battered Women, the Lesbian Task Force, and the Rural Task Force. These task forces served to safeguard diverse representation on the board, to network and share concerns, and to bring to the attention of the membership issues of concern to women who are abused in all their diversity. Task force meetings provided opportunities for members to explore and struggle with issues that might have been too risky or taboo in their home communities.
The speak-out at Bedford Hills in 1987, organized by the Task Force for Battered and Formerly Battered Women, focused public attention on issues such as incarceration of women who are abused, mutual orders of protection, stalking, and child custody. Perhaps the greatest measurable success of NYSCADV has been the passage of legislation guaranteeing maintenance monies for domestic violence programs. Thanks to the hard work of NYSCADV staff, membership and board, New York State has committed itself to ensuring that those affected by domestic violence have safe shelters, advocacy, crisis intervention, and local hotlines throughout the state.
For more than three and a half decades NYSCADV has remained steadfast in its efforts to eradicate domestic violence by consistently providing technical assistance, training and guidance to domestic violence programs across the state of New York. The needs and priorities of domestic violence programs throughout New York State and the people they serve are paramount in all of the Coalition’s work.
Even more central to the story of NYSCADV are the countless victims of domestic violence whose lives, and deaths, make our work imperative. The truth they speak horrifies and shames us, and their courage and strength amazes and humbles us. Moreover, their realities belie the myth of equality and justice in our communities. We have learned that intimate partner violence cannot be confronted unless oppression of every kind is similarly challenged. Any injustice keeps all justice a distant dream. The social change we seek leaves no one behind. May we never stop learning from such resilient individuals and families, whose patience and persistence make us better advocates and people.