By Jennifer L. Warren

She could be anyone. The girl down the street. The neighbor with the big pool. Perhaps, she’s even the waitress at your favorite restaurant. Most noticeably, she’s Rhianna. All women are potential victims of domestic violence. The statistics resonate that reality: on a national level, one in four women fall prey to this preventable crime. It’s a number Kellyann Kostyal aspires to erase. For the Executive Director of Safe Homes of Orange County, the price is too high, the consequences too dire, not to take serious action.

“We won’t make any progress addressing bigger issues in this country if we can’t be safe in our own homes,” explained Kostyal.

The Poughkeepsie resident, recently married in July with two children, carries a Master’s Degree in Crimonology. She also possesses some pivotal work experience. Prior to beginning her Safe Homes position in February, 2010, Kostyal was the Project Coordinator for the Universal Response to Domestic Violence. Before that job, she served as a Victim’s Specialist for Warren County (New York) District Attorney’s Office. Her role at Safe Homes felt like a natural evolution, a place she firmly feels she “is supposed to be.”

“My first job opened my eyes to the many injustices within the system, and the impact crime has on its victims,” recalled Kostyal. “Although my work found me working with all victims of crime, I found myself concentrating my efforts on intimate partner violence; I was deeply impacted by the various forms of abuse inflicted on a person by someone who was supposed to love them.”

That pain has come in the form of murder. Since September of 2004, 14 Orange County women were murdered by their husbands or intimate-partners. One woman remains missing. It’s yet another number that speaks volumes to Kostyal. One of her biggest challenges remains convincing the community of the same.

“There is a perception out there that domestic violence doesn’t affect me, can’t affect me, and I don’t know anyone it has happened to, so in a sense we have to continue to ‘sell’ our work,” said Kostyal, as she took some time to reflect further and added, “On top of having to do your every day job while dealing with the declining economy, you see that the number of victims continues to grow.”

That daily grind for Kostyal is no small task. As the Executive Director, she oversees all operations for Safe Homes. It’s an organization that continues to grow. To date, it includes: Family Justice Center, Shelter, Non Residential Supervised Visitation, Teen Dating Violence Program, Community Education, TASA (Teen Pregnancy at Risk Program), Court Accompaniment, a CPS/DV Link, and Support Groups.

Many of the “sub-agencies” of Safe Homes involve community. After all, it’s virtually impossible to isolate domestic violence from all of its surroundings, including the media. In a culture whose music lyrics are laden with the “B” word to refer to women, as well as visual media depicting her in an explicitly sexual manner, the work to change that image can become quite challenging. Because the process to portray women in such a manner involves many players, so too must its cure. The hope is empowerment, along with a release from the further demeaning prison bars of misplaced guilt and blame. According to Kostyal, that energy is much better directed at holding accountable the true culprit, the offender’s behavior and actions. Only then, can the abuse stop and the healing process begin.

“Violence, which is not just physical, in the home has a ripple effect,” said Kostyal, as she pondered, considering the intensity of the issue. “Our community needs to wrap its arms around its victims.”

Kostyal is intent on doing her part, and some more. Short-term she is looking to better understand her work “home,” Orange County, along with its domestic abuse needs. Her long-term vision includes leading Safe Homes, as well as jointly working with similar agencies throughout the state, to end violence against women.

Her rationale is clear.

“I do this work because women have not stopped dying,” said Kostyal. “This is a 100% preventable crime.”

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