While the wealth of local resources are there for victims of domestic violence, they can’t help those who don’t come forward.
And many are still trying to figure out why victims of these crimes choose to remain in the dark, and how to change that.
Darien Police revealed the number of domestic calls they get are a combination of violence, which leads to an arrest, and verbal argument, which does not. The abusive relationship could be between domestic partners, or between a parent and child, but the 121 calls the department got this year does not represent the whole population of victims, according to Sgt. Alison Hudyma, a member of the domestic violence task force for the Domestic Violence Crisis Center of Fairfield County, and liaison to the community.
“The serious offenders are still hiding,” she said. “People are still scared to come out.”
When an officer responds to the scene of a domestic dispute, they interview the people involved separately. With the help of background info, stories and witness statements, if any, they decide if an arrest is necessary. They do not arrest a person who acted in self defense.
“I feel like when the police are responding, we’re not seeing a lot of the serious violence calls,” she said. As part of the domestic violence task force, she and other members of the community meet once a month to discuss new events. Hudyma speaks to people at Stamford Hospital who claim that there are a significant amount of cases that are never reported to the police. Domestic violence may occur in the relationship or when one person is trying to get away. They may not report it because of fear of their partner. Domestic abuse specifically is not always physical, sometimes it is a psychological or monetary control.
While police, as first responders, can provide resources and safety, they can’t take the victim out of the relationship. “Ultimately they need to be the ones to report it,” she said.
One week after an incident, a police officer will go back to the involved parties to get any additional statements. Hudyma said that she goes to meetings at the Stamford court house once a week. At the scene, the victim might not want to reveal their situation but on second contact, officers might get a view of past events or all of the facts from the specific incident. This prompts the department to issue an arrest warrant.
They do not respond to many cases of violence in teen relationships, Hudyma said. She is on the board at the high school that organizes a teen dating violence panel.
The Domestic Violence Crisis center provides safe houses for in Stamford and Norwalk for area adults, teens and children. In Darien, advocates aim to educate and bring awareness to the stigmatized issue. Their presentations range from anger management and cyber bullying to younger kids to teen dating abuse. The crisis center organizes Teen PeaceWorks, a group of Darien high school who educate their peers that a culture of violence is not acceptable. They talk about physical and emotional abuse, and its portrayal in the media.
Mary Henwood-Klotz, chairperson for domestic violence advocacy at Stamford Hospital, confirmed Hudyma’s suspicion about underreported cases. The three-year-old program, created with the help of staff at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, trained employees to assess each patient and make them comfortable to speak with social workers or legal staff. The hospital has doctors, nurses and security officers on a committee to review cases and train other employees. Connecticut only mandates that hospitals report treatment of injury from a firearm.
Henwood-Klotz determined that a comprehensive domestic violence screening program was necessary when she found out that domestic violence was the leading cause of death for women 25 to 35. “It was really the evidence that domestic violence is so prevalent in the U.S. and that it’s underreported,” she said. “Some states don’t even require that health care providers report on it.”
She also said that there is usually a pattern of abuse by the time they see a woman who is abused by her partner, or who is ultimately killed. Particularly with cases where a partner is murdered or severely injured, “90% of them have sought medical help in the prior 24 months,” she said. “We have an opportunity to reach people before it’s too late.”
All of the hospital departments watch for signs of domestic abuse and provide safety to patients. For example, a pregnant woman going into labor may register under an anonymous name. Domestic abuse screening is embedded into emergency room admission so that patients do not feel stigmatized or judged. The person might already feel ashamed and isolated, even by family members who are trying to help by telling the victim to leave their partner, Henwood-Klotz said. “They get re-victimized by family,” she said.
The program does not have statistics on the number of cases yet but her impression is that in a town like Darien, a lot of people don’t think domestic violence is happening. “It’s a misconception,” she said. “It is happening and there is help.”
“Many women who are living with abuse are living in a dark tunnel and they don’t know how to get out,” Henwood-Klotz said, “as health care providers we can each light a part of that tunnel to help those people get out and live a full healthy life without fear.”
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