By Amanda Cuda, Staff Writer
Published: 09:46 p.m., Saturday, January 16, 2010
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"Where is the outrage?"
That's what Erika Tindill wants to know. Tindill is executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which oversees 18 domestic violence programs throughout the state. Between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2009, she saw the number of people served by the coalition's member organizations -- which include Bridgeport-based Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County and The Umbrella in Ansonia -- increase from 47,471 to 56,636.
Nationally, numbers are also rising. A survey released in May by the cosmetics company Mary Kay showed that three out of four domestic violence shelters in the country reported an increase in women seeking assistance since September 2008. The survey polled more than 600 shelters.
In addition to a general spike in cases, the last few weeks have brought several incidents in which women in Connecticut have been killed or seriously injured by someone close to them.
In late December, Adam Dobrzanski, 55, of Greenwich was arrested after he allegedly slit his 20-year-old daughter's throat, killing her.
The death was believed to be part of a murder-suicide plot. Roughly a week later, John Michael Farren of New Canaan, an attorney who worked in both Bush administrations, was arrested after allegedly trying to kill his wife by beating her with a flashlight and choking her two days after she delivered divorce papers.
The latest tragedy occurred just last week, when Frank P. Dore, 58, of Forestview Road in Bridgeport, was charged with murder after shooting and killing his wife with a shotgun, police said.
Where's the outrage?
Tindill said these incidents, disturbing though they are, represent just a fraction of the violence being wrought every day, in both Connecticut and the country. "Right this second, someone is being severely injured by someone who is supposed to love them," she said.
So, again, she asked, where is the outrage? Where is the alarm? Why aren't more people in the state screaming for some way to curb this kind of violence?
"What are we doing as a community to make this stop?" Tindill said. "Whatever it is, it's not enough."
Tindill wasn't alone in her dismay. Debbie Greenwood, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Women and Families, said, in the six towns her agency covers, domestic violence incidents rose 35 to 38 percent between October 2008 and October 2009. Greenwood said her staff members have been working extended hours, often without pay, to help field all the requests for help coming in to the center.
Anecdotally, she said, she and her staff have also seen incidents of domestic strife become increasingly intense and violent of late.
"There are more and more severe cases," she said. "This is touching everybody at some point."
Greenwood said there's likely a variety of reasons why violence is on the uptick, including the stress of the times we live in. "People are losing their jobs," she said. "They're losing their homes. They're in jeopardy of having to live a different lifestyle."
These factors combined might be enough to push people who already have tendencies toward violence over the edge, said Brian Namey, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Network to End Domestic Violence, a membership and advocacy organization of state domestic violence coalitions, allied organizations and supportive individuals.
Economy a factor
Like Greenwood, Namey said the nation's ongoing financial crisis could be a factor in domestic violence increases.
"The economy will not cause domestic violence, but economic downturns can make an already abusive relationship worse," Namey said. "It's like throwing gas on a fire."
A poor economy can also make victims less likely to leave an abusive relationship, he added, because they're more apt to think they can't survive on their own.
"A victim who is not financially independent might have a very difficult time finding a job right now," Namey said.
The Umbrella in Ansonia has seen a bump in the number of clients coming through its doors. Over the past three years, the average number of cases per year at the program has jumped from about 700 to 1,110 or 1,200, said Umbrella director Susan DeLeon.
Whatever the explanation for the increase, the experts agreed that the violence is unacceptable. Tindill said domestic violence doesn't just affect abusers and victims. It affects everyone they come into contact with, from friends and family to neighbors, employers and co-workers.
Recently, some actions have been take in the state to do something about the increasing problem of domestic violence. Late last year, Connecticut lawmakers formed a bi-partisan, 20-member domestic violence task force.
The group was charged with studying ways to prevent domestic violence and assist its victims.
Also, the youth and community development organization RYASAP recently announced that they would receive $1 million over the next four years as part of "Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships," a national initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Blue Shield of California Foundation.
"Start Strong" aims to teach youth about healthy relationships and self-esteem in an effort to prevent violence.
But Tindill said more needs to be done. There needs to be "a culture of intolerance" toward domestic violence, she said -- not unlike the attitude that has been built up in this country about smoking.
Tindill pointed out that customers and management at a restaurant where smoking has banned wouldn't look the other way if someone tried to light up on the premises. However, many people will turn a blind eye if they see a couple fighting in public, she said, thinking that it's none of their business.
The biggest way to change attitudes about domestic violence, Tindill said, is through prevention and intervention programs. Specifically, she said, you have to recruit men and boys to be advocates in the fight against domestic violence.
"The majority of batterers are men but only a tiny percentage of men are batterers," she said. If you can galvanize these men against domestic violence, you might be able to turn the tide of abuse, Tindill said.
Educating children is also a key step to changing the culture. Just as children were instrumental in motivating parents to quit smoking, Tindill said, they could be a valuable tool in changing the message about domestic abuse.
Both Greenwood and DeLeon said their programs do a lot of work in the schools, and that they're hoping these efforts will help lead to less violence down the line.