When she was 12, Susan Bereche vividly remembers learning about a family member being the object of a crime. From that day forward, she committed to helping victims. Case Manager Jhenny Jean-Baptiste has also spent her career as a guide for people to help them voice their opinions, protect themselves and build their confidence. The two women are lending their expertise to The Retreat’s mission of supporting survivors.
Hundreds of adults and children fleeing domestic violence on the East End will have more specialized resources available to support their safety after a successful pursuit of multi-year funding from the Office of Victim Services for bilingual Case Management and Attorney Services by The Retreat, a local nonprofit. The Retreat is eastern Long Island’s only comprehensive services agency for people experiencing domestic violence, sexual abuse, dating violence, stalking, trafficking, and other crimes. The two new grant-funded programs fill needs of violence survivors.
The Retreat’s Attorney Services program expansion endows The Retreat with funds to hire an attorney on-staff and on-site, increasing timely access to legal services and representation for fleeing survivors. Beyond helping victims pursue and receive life-saving restraining/“Stay Away” court orders, Bereche will address many other legal concerns that threaten survivors’ safety and recovery. Examples are housing law (where some landlords have tried to illegally evict abused women from their homes when they “call the police too many times”), employment law (some employers illegally threaten to fire employees who take days off to go to Court toward their own protection), disability law, property law, and immigration law—among others.
Attorney Susan Bereche received her law degree from St. John’s University. She worked in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, serving a part of that tenure in the sex crimes unit. In private practice she has worked cases in the Housing, Family, and Surrogate Courts. Bereche believes strongly in what The Retreat does, and her varied experience will be an asset for survivors. “Jurors don’t understand that a victim’s testimony is evidence and that until the 1970s, a victim of sexual assault could only prove their case by offering evidence to corroborate their testimony. That is not true today,” explains Bereche. “I can help people understand their legal rights.”
In addition to an on-staff attorney, Case Management expansion will enable more focused one-on-one work toward building a recovery plan with each fleeing survivor, helping assure coordinated access to multiple services. Coordination may range from housing assistance to medical/mental health support, to help clearing bad credit after an abuser has recklessly ruined a victim’s credit.
Case Manager Jhenny Jean-Baptiste recently served as a Program Supervisor for Mental Health. Her background in giving voice to those who aren’t able to speak for themselves brought her to The Retreat. “I want people to know they are capable of doing anything, they are able to get back on their feet, and I’m here to help with the motivation to get there,” says Jean-Baptiste. “My job is to meet people where they are in life, and offer resources and motivation to get to a better place.”
With an attorney on staff, The Retreat can provide survivors with immediate, critical legal advice and court representation. “With the expanded and enhanced services provided by the staff attorney and the case manager, The Retreat becomes a center for justice for adults, youth and families impacted by abuse and violence. What could be better than having all these comprehensive, free services under one roof.” said Hon. Loretta Davis, Executive Director of the Retreat, a former judge.