By Madina Toure
Executive Assistant District Attorney Jesse Sligh from the Queens District Attorney’s office spoke to residents in Flushing last month about plans to develop stronger laws protecting seniors’ rights and resources for domestic violence victims.
Addressing the monthly Northeast Queens Multicultural Democratic Club meeting June 18 at the Carlyle Towers at 43-10 Kissena Blvd., Sligh said that while seniors are a protected class, they do not benefit from the same level of protection as children, noting that individuals such as teachers, law enforcement officials and counselors are required to report any incident of crimes against children.
But if someone notices that a senior, with the exception of those in nursing homes, has bruises or scars, no one can take legal action unless the incident is reported to police, which current laws do not require, Sligh said.
He said a common problem for seniors is financial fraud involving mortgages and theft of homes, noting that his office has staff members who are trained to help seniors when they are the victims of such crimes.
“We have specially trained people who interact with seniors when a crime has been committed and develop this kind of rapport with the seniors, so that they can feel comfortable when they must come to court and they’re talking to the same person,” he said.
He also told residents about resources available for victims of domestic violence and pointed out that victims can go to the Family Justice Center at 126-02 86th Ave. in Kew Gardens, where an assistant district attorney can be assigned to an individual’s case the day that the incident occurs.
He said a major advantage of getting attorneys to work on cases as soon as the crime is committed is that individuals will often recant their statements after 72 hours.
“A fairly significant percentage of people will change their minds and say, ‘I don’t know who did it,’” Sligh said.
Sligh also promoted the Queens Child Advocacy Center, located at 112-25 Queens Blvd., which was established to coordinate and speed up the investigation, prosecution and delivery of treatment services in cases of child sexual abuse and serious physical abuse.
The center provides a friendly, neutral setting that consists of joint investigative interviews, on-site medical evaluation and treatment and advocacy services.
“Children also suffer in the prosecution of their cases in the way that women suffer under domestic violence,” he said.
Dilip Chauhan, a South Asian community leader and member of Community Board 7, said there is a lack of awareness about how the legal system works among immigrant groups.
Sligh noted that women, especially those who are victims of domestic violence, often are afraid to come forward because they fear being deported.
He said that five months ago, Carmencita Gutierrez, the daughter of Colombian immigrants, was appointed as the inaugural director of the Queens DA’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, which was established to address concerns unique to immigrants and new Americans regarding the legal system. Sligh said Gutierrez has staff members who speak 39 different languages.
“What they don’t know, because we haven’t done a good job of getting the message out, is that we never, ever ask anybody what is your immigration status,” he said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour