NYCAASA’s 2011 Lydia Martinez Collaboration Awards

Joyful Heart was proud to sponsor the Lydia Martinez Celebration of Excellence, hosted by the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (NYCAASA) on Monday.

The Lydia Martinez Multi-Disciplinary Collaboration Awards were presented to five recipients in honor of the late First Grade Detective C. Lydia Martinez, a remarkable Special Victims Detective in New York City. I had the privilege of meeting Lydia and the strength, compassion and light that emanated from her were incredible. On Monday, her colleagues and friends, many of whom filled the room in which we were sitting, spoke about the indelible effect she had on their lives, the lives of the survivors she served and on the city’s collective response to sexual assault by law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates and medical personnel.

We were there on Monday to remember her legacy and celebrate work of those who follow in her footsteps: volunteer advocate Maegan Corcoran, Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner and Coordinator Glenda Guzman, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center Violence Intervention and Treatment Program Coordinator Deesha Narichania, NYPD Special Victims Detective Richard Ortiz and Queens Assistant District Attorney Eric Rosenbaum. Each of the five honorees works in a different kind of response team, but all of them demonstrate that same unique kind of dedication and compassion that it takes to do this work well on a daily basis with the survivors they serve.

It wasn’t surprising, given the name of the award, that one of the central themes of the day was collaboration. Harriet Lessel, the Executive Director of the NYCAASA said it beautifully in her opening remarks, “Sexual violence can be prevented, but it will take a community to do it.”

I was deeply moved by the spirit of collaboration and togetherness that I felt in the room. There was a real awareness that to respond to sexual violence in the best way, we can’t only do what we know how. We must be creative and thoughtful, and we must work in partnership with our response community and the survivors whose lives we hope to better to go beyond. It was that spirit we were celebrating in the five recipients of the Lydia Martinez Collaboration Awards.

Those of us in attendance had the honor of hearing New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly speak about some incredible reforms his department is making in response to extensive collaboration with advocates and responders. Under the leadership of Chief Mike Osgood, about 25 advocacy groups have been meeting regularly with the Department. Recently, they presented the NYPD with recommendations for improving law enforcement’s response to sexual assault victims.

“My message today is a simple one,” Commissioner Kelly began in his keynote speech. “The NYPD is listening to your concerns and we are taking action.”

New York City has long been a leader in response to violence against women in our country and the City continues to demonstrate this leadership today. As a result of these collaborative efforts, Commissioner Kelly has ensured that every sex crime will be investigated by a detective in the Special Victims Unit and every officer dispatched to a hospital to respond to a sexual assault victim will be a member of the SVU. Uniformed patrol officers will be receiving additional training in sensitivity around being the first responders to sexual assault victims. And the Department is increasing staff in the Special Victims Unit by 50%, an outstanding commitment in a difficult economic climate.

“It is going to be a challenge, but we are committed to doing it,” Commissioner Kelly said.

Sarah Tofte, Joyful Heart’s Director of Advocacy & Policy, followed Commissioner Kelly’s keynote with a moving and inspiring speech of her own, commending the NYPD on these reforms and highlighting the service the honorees are doing every day to respond to survivors compassionately and courageously.

“We are so lucky to live in a city that takes sexual violence seriously, holds offenders accountable and keeps survivors safe,” she said.

Joyful Heart is a strong advocate of ending the backlog of untested rape kits–the DNA evidence collected from a rape victim’s body–and we consistently cite the NYPD as an example of all the good that can come out of testing them. In 2003, New York City ended its backlog of untested kits and today, they commit to test every kit booked into evidence.

“Your successful efforts send a message that rape kit testing matters, that a victim’s case is important, that what she went through to report the crime and go through the exam was not in vain, and that the perpetrator will not get away with their crime,” Sarah said, speaking to Commissioner Kelly.

Though Mariska couldn’t be there, she sent her love and gratitude to the award recipients and the attendees in a letter included with the program. In it, she said:

You encounter darkness, and you respond to that darkness with your light. You serve people when they are at their most vulnerable, and it is in these situations–and in the entire spectrum of what you encounter on a given day–that your dedication, expertise, compassion and humanity are so remarkable. Through your work, your strengthen the possibility of healing for survivors because you hear them, respond to them and commit yourselves to doing something about the violence and injustice that they have experienced. That is why I am so moved by your work: because it has the power to heal.

“It takes a village.” We've heard this expression before. In our case, it takes a city. It takes a county, a world. We can’t possibly create a world free of violence and injustice alone.

In moments like these that we take time to recognize the strength and vision of those working collaboratively toward this world—Eric, Richard, Deesha, Glenda and Maega—we think of our own vision statement: “to ignite and foster an open dialogue about how to collaboratively end the cycle of violence and abuse,” and are proud and honored to be a part of this effort.

View NYCAASA’s video of the award recipients below.

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