NEW BRITAIN – Imagine finally working up the courage to call for help during a domestic violence incident only to be arrested in front of your children, said Barbara Damon, executive director of the Prudence Crandall Center to a group of state legislators Thursday morning.
“Do you think they are going to reach out again?” she said.
Connecticut’s percentage of “dual arrests” where both parties are charged during a domestic violence incident is more than three times higher than the national average, according to figures released by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
It’s a statistic that Damon and other state domestic violence service providers are hoping to address by seeking a law change that would require police officers to arrest “the primary aggressor” rather than both parties involved.
During the second annual Regional Legislative Breakfast hosted by Prudence Crandall Center Thursday morning, area legislators including State Representatives William Petit, R-Plainville, John Fusco, R-Southington, and Whit Betts, R-Bristol, and State Senator Henri Martin, R-Bristol, were able to get a better picture of the importance of the domestic violence services offered by state-wide providers. Equally as important, the group was also able to hear what service providers are hoping to accomplish this legislative session.
Year after year, the legislature has steadfastly provided funding to keep the state’s 24-hour crisis line to speak to certified staff who are ready to help victims get to a safe haven, housing, counseling and other much needed services, said Karen Jarmoc, President and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The 18 agencies throughout the state including the Prudence Crandall Center that provide shelter and counseling for victims of domestic violence helped 38,404 people last year including 4,763 children.
Domestic violence shelters throughout the state are operating at 122 percent of capacity continually, Jarmoc said.
A woman identified as Becky told her story of escaping an abusive husband who whipped and beat her in front of her four-year-old son one night 10 years ago. She locked the boy and his sisters ages 9 and 13 in a room upstairs so they would be safe as the abuse continued throughout that night. She is still enduring surgeries to correct the physical damage inflicted on her, she said.
“I called police for the first time and my first responder handed me a card from Safe Haven,” Becky said. Safe Haven of Greater Waterbury provided the services and counseling she needed to get her life back, she said. Her oldest daughter is now in law school, her second-oldest in college and her son, a championship diver who plays 16 instruments, was recently accepted into Fairfield Prep School.
Although they have not faced huge cuts in state funding for the 24-hour crisis line, the 18 agencies are asking state legislators to increase the marriage license fee which largely goes to domestic and sexual violence services. The fee is now $20 with $1 going to the municipality where a person seeks a license and the other $19 divided equally between domestic violence programs and sexual violence programs. The increase to $50 the agencies are suggesting would raise more than $900,000 a year for domestic and sexual violence programs.
Domestic violence advocates are also asking for a change in state law that would define “primary aggressor” in a domestic violence incident and allow police to only arrest the “primary aggressor” and not the victim as well. According to figures provided by CCADV, police made dual arrests in 27.6 percent of intimate partner violence arrest cases verses the national average of 7.3 percent.
Petit expressed his concern that a victim’s arrest record could be a barrier to a new job, a new home or new life. “It seems if you are found to be a victim, we should have a mechanism to expunge that arrest from the victim’s record,” he said.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.