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.
That was the scenario presented to a group of state legislators Thursday morning by Barbara Damon, executive director of the Prudence Crandall Center.
“Do you think they are going to reach out again?” she aske.
Connecticut’s percentage of domestic violence “dual arrests” – in which both parties in the incident are charged -- 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 change in the applicable law to require police officers to arrest “the primary aggressor,” rather than both people.
During the second annual Regional Legislative Breakfast, hosted by the Prudence Crandall, area legislators including state Reps. William Petit Jr., R-Plainville, John Fusco, R-Southington, and Whit Betts, R-Bristol, and state Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, were offered a more detailed picture of the importance of the services offered by statewide providers. They also were made aware of what service providers are hoping to accomplish this legislative session.
Year after year, the legislature has provided funding to maintaing the state’s 24-hour crisis line, on which people can speak to certified staff who are ready to help victims of domestic violence find a haven, housing, counseling and other much needed services, said Karen Jarmoc, president and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Eighteen agencies around the state, including the Prudence Crandall Center, provide shelter and counseling for victims of domestic violence. They helped 38,404 people last year, including 4,763 children.
The state’s domestic violence shelters 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 repair the physical damage, 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 champion diver who plays 16 instruments, was recently accepted into Fairfield College Preparatory School.
Although they have not faced funding cuts 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 in which a person takes out 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, compared ot 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.