Why Giving Matters

Making Noise About the ‘Silent Crime’

March 3, 2015

In 2013 alone, police in New York City responded to over 280,000 domestic violence incidents. That’s an average of 765 calls each day – or roughly one every two minutes. And that only includes the victims, most of them women, who were able to reach out for help.

Yet despite these macabre statistics, many of us still turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the violence next door, thinking of it as a brutal but private family matter. But not so for Sarah Flatto, BA’09, who has devoted her career to increasing access to education, safety and services for those marginalized by crisis and violence.

Flatto is the director of programs and outreach for the newly minted Manhattan office of the New York City Family Justice Center, a safe haven that offers civil legal, social and criminal justice services for victims and survivors of intimate partner violence, human trafficking, elder abuse, and sex crimes– all free, confidential and available under one roof.

As part of her job, she works directly in communities across the borough, running a gamut that includes transit hubs, street fairs, cultural events and beauty salons to provide people with vital information about victim’s rights and the center’s services. She also collaborates closely with first responders such as hospitals, clergy and community-based organizations to ensure that the center’s important message reaches as many people as possible, including under-served groups such as new immigrants, low-income and lesbian gay bisexual transgender queer (LGBTQ) communities.

“Our goal is simple: we want people to know that there is help available no matter what their situation is,” she says.

That help can include providing victims, often with children in tow, with comprehensive advocacy: counseling and support groups, emergency shelter and affordable housing, job readiness, public benefits, immigration, and legal assistance with family court, criminal complaints and orders of protection.

Working for the center seems like a natural fit for the Manhattan-born Flatto, who received the Arts Undergraduate Improvement Fund Award during her second year as a McGill student. The internship enabled her to spend a summer abroad working with Never Again Rwanda, a human rights organization started by genocide survivors.

As part of the experience, which was funded through philanthropy, she learned about survivor-centered education by revising the organization’s peacebuilding curriculum and assisting workshops promoting dialogue and political engagement. The internship award also laid the groundwork for future academic scholarships she received to conduct research and study in Pakistan and India.

But what seared into Flatto’s memory most was the incredible resiliency of witnesses and survivors. “One of my colleagues told us, ‘Those who ignore what happened also in a way kill themselves.’ There was this foundational idea that everyone in society must work together to address extreme violence so that they can move on. I found that very powerful,” She says.

After graduating from McGill, Flatto returned to New York City, where she most recently managed the citywide community engagement “One NYC One Nation” public/private initiative for over two years at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

She credits her experiential learning at McGill, such as the internship in Rwanda and her extracurricular activities, for shaping her aspirations to work in the educational and advocacy spheres.

“I realize that a significant normative shift to challenge pervasive violence and oppression is difficult,” she says, “but providing information for people to make empowered decisions about their own lives can be transformative in itself.”