This month The Center for Family Justice continues its tradition of holding Domestic Violence Awareness Month vigils in the six local communities we serve. These vigils include a solemn reading of the names of the 20 Connecticut residents who were the victims of domestic violence homicides in 2018.
Reading these names is staggering because of the disturbing volume and the fact that they represent the devastating scope of domestic violence’s impact on every demographic in our communities. No one is immune.
Included in the list is a six-week-old infant murdered by his parents; an elderly man beaten to death by his wife; as well as multiple wives, girlfriends – many of them mothers – beaten, shot and stabbed to death by spouses and partners.
Sadly, for those of us who work daily to protect victims, there are new names being added to this list in 2019. It now includes Perrie Mason, a Meriden mother-of-two, whose estranged fiancé is accused of her August murder, only a few days after he is charged with strangling her. In September, Monica Dominguez was allegedly stabbed to death by her husband while her two children, ages 11 and 2, were in their Chesire home. Of course, we remain incredibly concerned about the fate of Jennifer Dulos, the missing New Canaan mother of five, whose estranged husband is facing charges related to her May disappearance.
This growing list is difficult to comprehend when you consider that in many cases, the alleged murderers were the very same people who once vowed to love, honor and protect their victims.
What’s tragic about all these cases is that domestic violence is also a preventable and predictable crime. While each case has its own distinct fingerprint, each relationship its own dynamic, there are red flags that epitomize abusive relationships and can accurately predict the risk of extreme and lethal violence. Understanding and responding to these risk factors is part of how we break the cycles of violence in our communities.
At The Center for Family Justice we are grateful to work in close partnership with law enforcement in the communities of Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull, in our ongoing efforts to prevent and protect victims of domestic violence and abuse.
As the state’s first Family Justice Center we are proud to have law enforcement representatives from these communities on-site at our Bridgeport headquarters to work directly with our clients.
We also work with law enforcement regularly to engage in a strategy known as lethality assessment; carefully analyzing a series of factors present in abusive relationships that put victims at higher risk for homicide.
While these factors are well-known to experts in domestic violence and our law enforcement partners, it is critical that anyone who cares about someone experiencing domestic abuse and violence – or is living with it in their own lives – understands them as well.
- An escalation of relationship violence in the last six months.
- When an abuser has threatened to use a weapon on their victim.
- A history of strangulation or choking in the relationship.
- When a victim fears an abuser might kill them.
- The abuser has a gun or can easily get one.
- The abuser is constantly jealous and has a propensity for violence.
- The abuser controls most of the victim’s daily activities.
- The victims has recently left the relationship or has made an attempt to separate from an abuser. (This is one of the most serious risk factors in any abusive dynamic.)
These are just some of the many factors that may precipitate a homicide. At CFJ we are vigilant about all of them when working with our clients who seek our free, confidential services or call our 24/7 emergency hotlines for and help with safety planning. We know that even more subtle factors – verbal threats, harassment, intimidation – can escalate and make an abusive relationship more dangerous over time.
When someone tells us, our partners in law enforcement or a family member or friend that they are afraid of their spouse, intimate partner or any other family member, it is critical that they are believed, supported and encouraged to get the help and protection they need and deserve.
This month domestic violence agencies across the state, working in collaboration with the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, have embarked on a campaign encouraging all of us to do one thing during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and throughout the year to help break the cycles of domestic violence.
One thing we could all do is to start believing victims when they have the courage to tell us about the abuse they are experiencing. If they say they are afraid respect that fear and encourage them to seek help from an agency such as ours or law enforcement. It could save their lives.
Debra A. Greenwood is the President/CEO of The Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport, which provides free, confidential services to victims of domestic and sexual violence and child abuse in six local communities. Its confidential hotline for domestic violence is 203-384-9559 and 203-333-2233 for sexual violence.