After slaying of Rahway mom, advocates explain how NJ can protect victims
The killing of a New Jersey woman who authorities and her mother say long suffered at the hands of the man who police say abducted her and their child last week, shines a light on systemic changes needed to protect domestic violence victims in the Garden State, according to a group that supports and advocates for victims.
Yasemin Uyar had filed a restraining order against and made multiple moves to escape from her former partner and father of her child.
"Yasemin, like so many other victims of domestic violence homicide, was actively doing things to try to keep herself safe," said Nicole Morella, director of policy and education for New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
The group released a statement and urged a list of changes in response to the death of Uyar, of Rahway, who was allegedly abducted along with her son by the boy's father.
The subject of an Amber Alert, the 2-year-old boy was found in Tennessee with his father, Tyler Rios, of Highland Park. Rios then led police to Uyar's body in a wooded area off a highway, police said. He's a suspect in her death, but as of late Wednesday had been only charged with kidnapping in the case.
Rios was once charged with strangling Uyar, but that 2018 charge was dropped as part of a plea deal.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law on Tuesday that elevates strangulation assault to a second-degree crime, punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment, a fine of up to $150,000, or both.
According to court documents, Rios had a significant history of domestic violence. According to her mother, Uyar moved her location many times and secured a restraining order against Rios.
"If we solely rely on the criminal justice system to address domestic violence, we're unfortunately going to miss a lot of opportunities in our communities to create levels of support and access to information for survivors," Morella said.
NJCEDV is encouraging "stronger collaboration across systems." Victims of domestic violence who are willing to ask for help don't just interact with law enforcement, they interact with other systems such as health care, housing and human services.
"It is imperative that every point of contact — from the initial report through to the close of a case — understands the dynamics of power and control in relationships; identifies the risk factors associated with domestic violence; and works in collaboration to help improve the safety of survivors," the group said.
The group also said prevention can be promoted by investing in programs and education that target current or potential perpetrators of domestic violence, who are "products of a society that has historically condoned power and control in relationships, particularly of men over women."
"The reality is that most perpetrators of domestic violence are survivors of their own trauma as well," Morella said.
Many times, Morella noted, survivors of domestic violence are staying in abusive relationships because they don't have any financial means of their own. Uyar's homicide, the group said, demands that leaders pause and identify more clearly what survivors need to stay safe.
"For some, it is being able to call the police without fear of being arrested; for others, it is to have easier access to food, housing, healthcare, and transportation," the group said.
An assessment launched recently by NJCEDV attempts to identify the needs of survivors throughout New Jersey. All survivors are encouraged to complete the anonymous survey.