Advocates, police speak on domestic violence following Cheshire, Meriden homicides

Advocates, police speak on domestic violence following Cheshire, Meriden homicides



The stigma surrounding domestic violence remains, despite years of educating victims and the public, say those who work with victims.

“But we are moving in the right direction,” said Linsey Walters, executive director of Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis.

New laws have helped, Walters said. Police must now enforce laws that identify who is the primary aggressor instead of arresting both parties without sufficient investigation. 

“Those events perpetuate the stigmas, because the courts are inundated with the same victims,” Walters said. “People are still asking — ‘why doesn’t she leave? Why doesn’t she find a better relationship?’”

Domestic violence moved to the fore locally after two women were killed, in Cheshire and Meriden. In the Cheshire case, the victim had filed for divorce two months earlier. In the Meriden case, the victim’s ex-boyfriend was charged with strangulation and assault in an attack the week before.

The cases demonstrate the need for more awareness, prevention and program funding, advocates said.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. Chrysalis will host a Business After Hours event from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center to introduce its services to the community. It will also honor survivors and victims.

According to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in 2018 a total of 38,192 victims received services from 18 organizations in the state. That number includes 33,475 adults and 4,717 children. Over 33,000 calls were received on the state domestic violence hotline, which is a 3 percent increase from 2017.

Last year, 4,126 events were held promoting community education, which is a 23 percent increase from 2017. 

“The nature of the violence has changed,” Walters said. “We’ve definitely worked with more strangulation victims. But is it better screening, or is it becoming more prevalent?

In the past five years, police responding to domestic violence situations have begun conducting lethality assessments to determine a victim’s risk level. Domestic violence service providers review those assessments.  

The answers help assist victims with devising a safety plan. The type of violence or use of weapons are tabulated to identify trends. Without a baseline, it’s hard to determine whether strangulations are up or being reported more, Walters said. But the number of times a person is strangled also determines high risk, particularly if the person is being strangled to unconsciousness.

Wallingford Deputy Police Chief John Ventura said after the assessment, the officer provides the victim with information about available resources. If they screen as high risk, the officer will call a hotline worker at the scene to help the victim. 

“Domestic violence is not only one of the most dangerous calls our officers could respond to, it is also the most serious,” Ventura said. 

Those involved in domestic incidents are usually highly emotional, so officers are trained in different techniques to handle the situations, Ventura said. Giving the victim respect and dignity and making them aware of resources is the top priority, he added. 

Wallingford police have responded to about 198 domestic disputes this year, up slightly from last year, Ventura said. The Cheshire Police records division said officers have reported to 37 domestic calls so far this year. 

Domestic violence programs are also in need of funding to support prevention.

“It’s really important that we stop the issues before they are epidemics,” Walters said. 

Healthy vs. controlling behaviors

Chrysalis runs a program for students focused on prevention. It has become more co-ed in recent years.

“I can get in a room with young ladies, talk about red flags and relationships, seeing their friends in bad relationships,” Walters said. “But how much more effective it is to talk with boys about locker room talk ... and healthy relationships ... it addresses the behavior. We spend time working with victims getting them services, but we don’t spend enough time with potential offenders.”

That is not to say only males engage in potentially controlling, abusive behaviors, she added.

“We do take opportunities to talk to co-ed groups about what are healthy behaviors in a relationship,” Walters said.

Barbara Damon, executive director of the Prudence Crandall Center, said one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence during the course of their life. The center offers a spectrum of services to victims statewide, including shelter. 

Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behavior over time, Damon said.  When the victim takes steps to leave the relationship they are often in the most danger, she said. A separation, divorce or child custody issue can lead to escalated violence.

Victims who have been controlled for years often come to believe they are to blame and don’t seek help. Advocate Amanda Kippert writes about the issue on the Chrysalis website.  

“While being proactively cautious is a useful skill for anyone entering a relationship, most advocates would agree that the reality is abusers are cunning, deceptive and manipulative,” Kippert wrote. “They can start out as the most romantic and thoughtful partners. Their tactics of power and control begin with earning a survivor's trust and then slowly eroding that trust through psychological, verbal and even physical abuse.” 

In the Cheshire incident, Monica Pinto Dominguez filed for divorce from her husband, Emanuel Dominguez-VillaGomez, about two months before she was stabbed and killed. She also sought primary residency for their daughter, with her husband receiving joint custody and visitation. Her husband has been charged in her death.

In Meriden, Jason Watson was taken into custody on domestic violence charges following the disappearance of ex-girlfriend Perrie Mason, who was eventually found dead. The arrest warrant for the domestic assault charges indicates they were dating and recently broke up. Watson has not been charged in her death.

Leaving is not as easy as it sounds, advocates said. 

“Many victims want the abuser to come back to the relationship. There is a lot of judgment about that,”  Walters said.  “Because economically, it makes sense. They have to make the decision of dealing with relationship violence or feeding kids.”

Walters said when the Chrysalis case workers speak with victims, they also focus on the welfare of children in the home. Chrysalis works cooperatively with the Department of Children and Families and makes referrals if staff determine a child is in danger.

Resources

Walters said she wants victims to know there are resources available. 

“It’s hard to trust the system when you’ve seen the system fail,” Walters said.

The number for the statewide 24/7 hotline is 888-774-2900, Damon said. Calls are kept confidential.

lsellew@record-journal.com
203-317-2225
Twitter: @LaurenSellewRJ


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