Conference addresses government’s role in domestic violence prevention

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) speaks to the importance of legislation in the fight against domestic abuse –Kevin Webb

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) speaks to the importance of legislation in the fight against domestic abuse –Kevin Webb

The YWCA’s annual Domestic Violence Awareness Press Conference arrived at a time of renewed attention being brought to the national issue, commemorating important legislation that has supported the cause and paving the road for further progress against domestic abuse.

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) joined a bipartisan panel with Selectman Drew Marzullo, Greenwich Police Chief James Heavey and state Reps. Fred Camillo (R-151) and Livvy Floren (R-149) at the YWCA to address the persistent threat of domestic violence. The YWCA is Greenwich’s only institution for domestic abuse services, having aided more than 6,500 victims in the last year. The press conference was a part of the YWCA’s programs for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which also included a vigil for victims of domestic violence.

The conference focused on several pieces of legislation, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the 30th anniversary of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA). VAWA is responsible for reforms to the criminal justice system, establishing new standards for law enforcement in cases of domestic violence and increasing penalties for repeat offenders.

“Today is a moment to look back with pride on the progress we have made, to remember that laws do matter, that the words on paper and the actions they enable can make a difference,” Mr. Murphy said. “In the 20 years since VAWA was passed, we have seen a 50% increase in the number of domestic violence crimes that are reported. We still know that it’s a fraction of the overall number, but that’s a pretty good start.”

FVPSA is the sole source of federal funding for domestic violence services. Grants distributed as a result of FVPSA support essential services for domestic violence victims such as hotlines, shelters, counseling, advocacy, and protection.

“Connecticut domestic violence shelters have consistently run at or above capacity for the past year with many programs struggling to meet the level of need because of a lack of resources,” YWCA Domestic Abuse Services director Suzanne Adam said. “Since 2010, YWCA Domestic Abuse Services has sheltered 363 individuals, including 204 children. We urge Congress to fully fund FVPSA at the authorized amount of $175 million and provide a critical lifeline to victims of domestic violence.”

Mr. Blumenthal, a Greenwich resident, shared the details of a new act he introduced in June, the Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act. The act would prevent those under a temporary restraining order from possessing or purchasing a firearm. Ms. Jackson was killed by her husband after obtaining a temporary protective order against him. She sought safety at her mother’s home with her two infant children, but was shot and killed there just a day before a scheduled hearing on the restraining order. Her mother was also shot during the altercation.

“Gun violence in inextricably linked to domestic violence,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Women are five times more likely to be killed when their abuser has access to a gun. They are two heads of a single monster. The monster of domestic violence kills with guns, with fists, with knives, but guns are the most prevalent killer.”

Though Connecticut law restricts the possession of firearms for those under permanent restraining orders, that protection is not in place for temporary ones. The proposed act would close that loophole, providing additional protection for potential victims.

Ms. Floren acknowledged the legislative work that still needed to be done to prevent such loopholes and other acts of violence against women. She is a part of a bipartisan women’s caucus that is pushing to tackle such issues at a state level.

During the conference speakers stressed that though the victims of domestic violence are overwhelmingly female, domestic abuse is not solely a women’s issue. The perpetrators are overwhelmingly male, and have an equal responsibility in preventing and ultimately ending the issue. A cultural shift away from the shame and secrecy surrounding domestic abuse is necessary to continue progress on both a social and political level.

“When you leave here today, this is what the YWCA needs you to do, this is what victims of domestic violence need you to do. … Stay up to date on what is happening on college campuses, stay sensitive to how our boys are being raised and when someone discloses to you that they are being abused, believe them.” Ms. Adam said. “Validating their experience and listening to what they have to say is the most important gift you can give.”

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