The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 25, 2010

Carlisle’s not a stranger to domestic violence

Alison Tarmy says the recent murder of two children, a wife and mother-in-law by a Winchester father has had a big impact on her domestic abuse clients. “They’re terrified it could happen to them,” she says. Tarmy is Direct Services Manager for the Domestic Violence Service Network (DVSN), a private organization that partners with police to provide support for victims of domestic violence in local communities. In a phone conversation Tuesday, she noted her organization currently works with nine individuals in Carlisle. She says the public should realize that affluent communities are not protected from domestic abuse; in fact, victims in towns like Winchester and Carlisle may find it harder to get help.

Shame, denial and isolation are three factors that can stand in the way of reaching people in high income towns, says Tarmy. “There’s a lot of shame, especially among those who are privileged,” she says. Often, they worry they have too much to lose if they leave a relationship. Isolation is also a problem. “In a community where houses are far apart, you don’t necessarily have neighborly support,” she says, as violence next door can go unnoticed.

In high-income towns, the abuser may be a lawyer, doctor or other powerful person who knows how to manipulate authorities and the laws, writes Kiersten Warning, former director of the Domestic Violence Victim Assistance Program (DVVAP) in an on-line article (“Unusual Help Needed for Victims of Domestic Violence in Privileged Communities”). Friends and neighbors may assume “that doesn’t happen here,” so victims who do reach out may not be believed or their concerns may be down-played.

Affluent victims are not typically using social services, so may not know how to get help, especially if computers and phones are monitored. And if a resident of a high-income town calls, counselors may downgrade the need and assume finances are not a problem. “The fact is that victims often do not have access to cash, credit cards, checkbooks, or even information about the amount and location of family finances,” Warning says.

In 2009, eight incidents of domestic violence were recorded in Carlisle through June, and nine in six months this year, as many as were recorded in all of 2008. Chief John Sullivan credits the poor economy for the increase, and notes that at a recent meeting of area police chiefs, there was concern that domestic calls are up all over. Tarmy says referrals to her organization are up 20% over last year, which was up 39% over the year before, but notes that some of that attests to the “strong connections forged with local police” who may be referring a higher percentage of victims.

Sullivan says that the law is uncompromising, and if domestic violence is reported, an officer will make an arrest. The law states that domestic violence occurs if a household member, dating partner, married or formerly married partner, parent of a child in common, or relative by blood or marriage attempts to cause physical harm, causes physical harm, places another in fear of physical harm, or causes another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat or duress. Sullivan believes that tough consequences prevent repeat performances, “Once they’re arrested, it’s a real deterrent.” Tarmy notes that DVSN follows up on all police reports, “even a verbal dispute or hang-up call, not just violence.” They try to contact victims and intervene early, “We hope to prevent something greater from happening.”

Tarmy says that cases like Winchester do not come out of the blue. “There are always indicators, but people aren’t trained to know what they are.” She lists a number of warning signs that a person might be abused (see box above). Often the violence and control is progressive, and may at first seem loving, as in “I’d rather you spent time with me.” As time passes, more power is sought, resulting in escalating violence. Victims are in most danger when they decide to leave, says Tarmy, “The abuser gets desperate and will think of something big to regain control.” For those considering moving on, Tarmy advises getting a restraining order and communicating your intentions to the police, family and friends. DVVAP)is an arm of DVSN that provides direct support to those in violent relationships, and offers a number of tips for increasing safety on their website (see below).

If you suspect a friend is being abused, “ask them,” says Tarmy. “Ask, “How are you doing?’ as though you want to know the answer,” not just the usual breezy ‘How’s it goin’?” She continues, “Reach out and talk about it. By breaking through the shame and denial, you might spur someone to seek help.”

She notes that a victim does not have to be ready to leave a relationship to use the services of DVSN/DVVAP. “Even if they want to leave, they may not have the financial ability, or may fear losing custody of children,” she says. Counseling will be provided on how to remain safe, join support groups and access free legal advice. “We meet them where they’re at. They’re the expert on their life,” says Tarmy. She respects that many clients will “do everything they can to make [a relationship] work. At least in the end they feel they have done everything they could.” All contacts are confidential, and the organization is sensitive to the possibility a victim may be watched or monitored.

Tarmy has a parting piece of advice to everyone in Carlisle, “Get to know your neighbors. Too many of us drive up the driveway, open the automatic door, and walk into the mudway,” missing any opportunity to interact with a neighbor who might need help. Have block parties. Build a sense of community. Let your neighbors know, ‘I’m concerned about you.’” ∆

Resources cited include:

1. http://dvsn.org/ – This site warns that “computer use is easily monitored and impossible to clear” and refers victims to the hotline 888-399-6111.

2. www.concordma.gov/pages/ConcordMA_police/dvvap/dvsafety

Features tips on how to increase safety in a violent relationship. ∆

Is your friend or neighbor being abused?

Look for warning signs:

• Increased isolation, drops off committees, abandons activities.
• Stops hanging with friends and family.
• Checks with partner before agreeing to do anything.
• Tenses if the phone rings, must take it right away.
• Changes personality, stops being who used to be.
• Also note if children seem more aggressive or withdrawn.


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