Advocates say domestic violence is the second pandemic

A photo from the 2021 Interval House Breakfast of Champions event during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Credit: Contributing photo / Interval House

According to advocates for victims of domestic violence, over the past two years the number of people seeking the services of their agencies has increased, and they use the month of October – which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – to get people to post it.

“I understand October is busy, but it’s the month Congress has given us to make hay,” said Mary Jane Foster, executive director of Hartford-based Interval House. “We have to maximize every minute. This is the month when more people pay attention. We just have to go all out and that’s what we do.

Interval House was founded in the basement of a Hartford church in 1977 and is Connecticut‘s largest nonprofit dedicated to ending domestic violence. The agency, which is one of 18 similar ones in the state, has organized several events throughout October, beginning with a press conference Monday at 11:30 a.m. at Capital Community College in Hartford.

US Senator Richard Blumenthal, Capital Community College CEO Dr. G. Duncan Harris and Foster are expected to attend, along with members of Interval House’s Men Make a Difference advocacy group.

Blumenthal, Foster said, co-founded the men’s advisory group 11 years ago.

“It was his idea to bring together influential men who would advocate for an end to violence against women and be role models for boys and men,” Foster said. She noted that 20% of their services last year went to men, and she also said one in four women were affected by domestic violence.

“Someone you know or will know at some point in their life has experienced domestic violence,” Foster said.

Interval House, whose staff provide services to residents of 24 Hartford-area communities, had 6,800 clients in 2021, according to Foster, up from 5,500 two years earlier. She said calls to their hotline have increased by 57% since 2020.

Public safety officials announced this week that violent crime overall declined in 2021, rape incidents rose 23%, while murders and manslaughter rose about 2%. Although there are other organizations that work specifically with rape victims, Foster said Interval House works with women who have been raped. Of the 150 people who died of murder or manslaughter in Connecticut last year, 32 were victims of domestic violence.

“What we do know is that the numbers have increased dramatically and the intensity of violence has increased – there’s no question about that,” Foster said of her organization’s data on domestic violence.

Foster said her agency is constantly working on ways to provide information about their programs to people who need help, including shoe cards, which are cards that can be torn along a perforated edge so that they can fit in someone’s shoe. “Then they use that information when it’s safe to do so,” she said.

Shoe cards have been placed in washrooms – including men’s washrooms – in buildings where Interval House has access, such as churches and Hartford Hospital. Foster worked with human resource managers at various companies to place the cards in their toilets.

“It’s difficult because we have a very small army, so it’s not always easy to supply people,” Foster said. “We release them by the thousands, and there is always a need.”

Debra Greenwood, CEO and President of The Family Justice Center (CFJ) in Bridgeport, said his organization provided services to 5,500 victims of domestic violence last year in the six communities served by CFJ: Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull. Greenwood said demand for services was up 32% from a year ago – a trend she called “the second pandemic”.

To honor the 32 lives lost to domestic violence in 2021, CFJ will be hosting a vigil on Wednesday, October 12 from 6-8 p.m. at the Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater.
CFJ launched its Empowerhouse project – a new, expanded shelter for victims and their families to receive services under one roof – to meet growing demand. Greenwood said she hopes to open the new facility in the summer of 2023. The organization received $865,000 in federal funds to help complete the halfway house, the group announced in May.

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