Schenectady County

Officials fear rise in domestic violence cases

Women’s rights advocates and state officials are worried a deteriorating economy could trigger a ris

For more info

– The YWCA of Schenectady provides advocacy and support services for victims of domestic violence 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It has a hot line at 374-3386.

– In addition to the YWCA, resources are available at the Schenectady County Office of Children & Family Services, as well as the police departments and courts in Schenectady, Glenville, Scotia, Rotterdam and Niskayuna.

– Elephant In The Living Room meets on the third Monday every month at the Schenectady Unitarian Church’s Waters House at 1221 Wendall Ave. Call 399-4242 for more information.

– For further information or resources, contact the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence Hot line at 1-800-942-6906, the National Domestic Violence Hot line at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hot line at 1-800-656-HOPE.

Women’s rights advocates and state officials are worried a deteriorating economy could trigger a rise in domestic violence cases.

Lisa Frisch, executive director of The Legal Project, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income domestic violence victims in Schenectady County, said her organization assisted about 700 victims last year. This year, it’s on track to serve more than 800, she said.

“We don’t know if that’s the economic situation or people are becoming more aware of services,” said Frisch.

State officials are also preparing for a potential influx of domestic violence problems.

Amy Barasch, executive director of the state’s Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, said job loss can exacerbate a difficult situation and lead to violence. A deteriorating economy can also cause a woman to stay longer with an abusive partner because of finances, Barash said.

Barasch said her office is beginning conversations to develop a plan to deal with any increase in domestic violence victims. They are looking to tap into state grants to develop financial literacy programs for victims of domestic violence. They are also working with the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to make temporary benefits available. Through the Web site, people can go online and see if they are eligible for benefits.

The domestic violence issue is also in the news after Yetraj Mangar of Schenectady was charged last month with fatally bludgeoning his wife. He faces a charge of second-degree murder.

Doesn’t discriminate

Domestic violence cuts across income and geographic lines.

“I think people kind of have a stereotype that domestic violence only happens in very poor, very urban areas, and that is not the case,” Frisch said.

In suburban Glenville, a woman described her own situation: a husband who became increasingly controlling over money and family decisions. He insisted that she quit her job to stay home with the children, and lashed out when he drank.

“He would smash things in front of the children, throw things,” said the woman, whose name is being withheld to protect her family. “I’ve had furniture thrown out of the house, a kitchen stove smashed.”

She said there was a part of her that did not want to believe domestic violence was happening. “I had the perfect home in the suburbs and the perfect family and sent out the perfect Christmas cards.”

She is one of roughly 25 percent of women who will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to a 2000 study by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2006, there were more than 50,000 reported cases of domestic violence in the state.

Quest for power

Carole Fox, counseling and education coordinator for the YWCA, said domestic violence is about power and control. About 73 percent of the victims of family violence are female, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics.

“This is about an inflated sense of entitlement that some men have. They use that sense of entitlement to control their intimate partner,” Fox said.

The YWCA of Schenectady provides advocacy and support services for victims of domestic violence 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It has a hot line at 374-3386.

In 2007, the YWCA provided 6,147 nights of shelter to 313 women and 204 children, according to Sara Erickson, development and communications director. She said this was actually a drop from 2006, when it provided sheltering for 387 women.

“What we believe is that people just didn’t come in, unfortunately,” she said.

Coordinated approach

Attacking the domestic violence problem requires input from a variety of parties, including both community and law enforcement agencies.

Bob Passonno, criminal justice training director for the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, said society itself needs to change. The idea that men have to be tough in order to be masculine is reinforced in movies, television and violent video games, said Passonno. If children see violence, parents need to explain it in context and teach boys in particular that it is not acceptable behavior, he said.

Police in cities have seen a rise in retaliatory violence over the slightest insults. In the past, men may have used their fists, but now they use guns, Passonno said.

“It comes back to masculinity equals violence and anything less than violence, you’re less than a man,” he said.

Law enforcement has changed its approach in the past few decades. In the past, domestic violence cases might not have been treated as seriously. However, now police are taught to respond to domestic violence calls as any other crime in progress.

Glenville Police Chief Michael Ranalli said the department has a pro-arrest policy. Unlike, for example, after a bar fight in which the two parties may not elect to press charges, in domestic violence cases, police try to make an arrest.

Rotterdam also has a pro-arrest policy. “The victim, whether man or woman, basically doesn’t have the right to say ‘I don’t want that person arrested.’ We feel that’s the best way to protect everybody,” said Deputy Police Chief Bill Manicus.

Domestic violence cases flood the dockets of courts across the region. Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III said about 13 percent of the nearly 9,000 cases his office prosecutes a year are domestic violence related. To date in 2008, the county had 1,208 charged cases of domestic violence and 1,542 uncharged or pending.

“I think people are more willing to come forward now. Thankfully, the stigma is gone. We’re seeing more and more cases being reported. Not because I think there is more of it, but because they know that something will be done,” he said.

Community involvement

It is not just law enforcement officials who are working on the fight against domestic violence; other community agencies are getting involved as well. A Schenectady County organization called Coordinated Community Response brings together victims, advocates, law enforcement, court representatives and others to see what they can do better to prevent domestic violence.

Elephant in the Living Room, a Schenectady citizen’s group, advocates for community-based solutions to domestic violence. Ed Gider, co-facilitator of the group, said he is frustrated by “serial batterers.”

“Police might respond to the residence 20 times. Or you may have a case where the guy goes to another woman and repeats the same pattern,” he said.

Gider said he believes more data is needed about the specifics of domestic violence cases. For example, New Jersey compiles domestic violence statistics by time of day, day of the week, county and relationship of offender to the victim.

Starting in 2009, New York’s Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence will begin compiling the number of calls coming into state and local hot lines.

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