Local woman offers ‘Alternatives' to domestic violence offenders

Vera House program aims to educate about healthy relationships

SYRACUSE (WSYR-TV) - As a child, Desiree Williams saw poverty and violence with her own eyes while she grew up on the southwest side of Syracuse.

Speaking as a Syracuse University alumna at the 2017 Take Back the Night, Williams shares her work with the “bad guys” – men and women bringing violence into their relationships.

Williams is the coordinator for Vera House’s Alternatives Program.

One of the main goals of the program is to teach everyone that people can act non-violently in relationships and that it’s possible to build healthy, respectful relationships.

Currently, there are 125 men and 20 women enrolled in the program.

She doesn’t leave room for excuses as she’s walked the same dangerous streets.

“Sometimes when they come they say, ‘oh I’m so disadvantaged,’” Williams shared. “I grew up this way, my life is this way. Unfortunately, I grew up with a lot of disadvantages.”

Disadvantages aside, Williams has helped those at their lowest. One woman Williams has counseled was a convicted murderer serving 13 years after a violent situation turned deadly at her own hands.

“If you take somebody’s life, it’s not a good thing because both families lose,” Williams said. “But when you have an individual who wants to give back to the community to save another young person from making the same mistake – that person just saved maybe 25 more lives that somebody else could not have made an impact on.”

At times, Williams comes across offenders who come back to Alternatives because they have re-offended and they’re required by law to enroll again.

However, some offenders end up in Alternatives a second or third time, but by choice. Williams says the continued support and open dialogue is helpful for those who have already completed the program successfully.

“Some people can’t be rehabilitated,” Williams says those offenders will end up in jail again – making that the most frustrating part of her job.

Nevertheless, Williams remains hopeful.

“When people do something wrong, we throw them away. I come from a different standpoint,” Williams said. “I think everyone has an opportunity, if they want to live their life a little differently. If they take the first steps, then I’m there to help them the rest of the way.”

Vera House offers an array of services for victims of sexual violence, domestic violence and elder abuse.

Vera House's 24-hour crisis and support line can be reached at (315) 468-3260.

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