Trapped. Helpless. Overwhelmed. Despite the fear and danger, all too often people caught in an abusive relationship feel powerless, unable to escape.

“If they want to leave their abuser, especially if they have children, they leave with nothing,” says Jan Scully ’73 (Government/Journalism). “They are often dependent on the abuser financially and emotionally.”

Scully, who recently retired as Sacramento County’s district attorney, is the guiding force behind the Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center, a multi-agency collaboration to provide a streamlined process for victims to extricate themselves from violence.

And she’s found a determined and active partner in her alma mater.

“Family Justice centers are—for want of a better word—a one-stop shop. When the victim comes in, it’s the only place they’ll have to go for help.”

Under the current system, a person trying to escape an abusive environment must navigate more than 40 community-based programs spread throughout the area, says Fred Baldini ’82, MA ’85 (Physical Education), dean of the College of Health and Human Services. Sacramento’s Justice Center will bring those programs to a central point of access where victims can go to one place to, for example, receive legal assistance for requesting a protective order, find emergency shelter or get a medical referral.

Jan Scully '73 is a partner in the Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center, which will bring access to a host of services for victims of domestic violence under one roof.

“We find that the more the victim is able to access services, the more likely they are to get themselves and their families out of the relationship and pursue prosecution,” Scully says. “The vast majority of abusers were victims of domestic violence or grew up in a home with domestic violence. The goal is to break the cycle.”

The Sacramento center will have the added benefit of involving Sac State students and faculty.

“As an alumna I had this light go on. We have a university in Sacramento that is so strongly tied to community connections and partnerships,” Scully says. “Pairing with Sac State will make ours the only center in the nation with a strong relationship with a university. And once it’s in place, I believe it can be a national model.”

Baldini agrees.

“It’s ripe with possibilities and opportunities. We are looking at it as a site for internships for our students in several departments like social work and nursing. We’re very excited about the opportunities for students to get first-hand knowledge of issues they’ll be facing after graduation.

“It fits really well with what we are doing with teaching and research.”

In addition, faculty from the criminal justice division are working with the service providers who will be participating at the site to develop an evaluation plan.

“We want to be able to determine how the center is doing meeting its goals, how effective is it in meeting its mission,” says Mary Maguire, professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for the Study of Criminology and Criminal Justice. “The hope is to provide data that illustrates the good work going on there, which in turn will result in grant funding.”

Maguire also sees the evaluation process as a training ground for graduate students, helping them build skills they will likely be called upon to provide in their careers.

“It’s more likely that criminal justice graduates will be called on to evaluate a program for its effectiveness than they will be called on to create original research. The family justice center provides that opportunity,” Maguire says.

Scully has one more reason for wanting to team up with the University and it’s a tough reality on the pervasiveness of abuse.

“What gives me chills is the opportunity to deal with dating and relationship violence among people on campus,” Scully says. “Young people could get used to the Family Justice Center and would feel comfortable using its services. “If we can reach them before they get into a long-term abusive relationship, we can break the cycle.”

For more information on the Family Justice Center, visit

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