A South Windsor woman whose ex-husband is accused of holding her hostage at gunpoint last summer before burning down their home came to the Capitol to support the legislative agenda of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Nancy Tyler said she didn’t want to talk about her experience, but that she spoke Wednesday for two reasons: To protect her family, and to help others.
“I’m here because I’m a victim of domestic violence,” Tyler, who has spoken about her ordeal only twice since it happened, said.
“In difficult economic times like we are experiencing now, we can expect this kind of violence to increase. Some people become domestic abusers as their jobs disappear or the bills become overwhelming,” Tyler said.
Tyler advocated for keeping the state’s 16 shelters open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We need to fund these shelters because we can’t leave victims alone just when they need the help the most,” Tyler said. “We have to give them a safe place to go with people there 24 hours a day, people who can respond to danger or just provide reassurance to give them some strength to face the next day.”
Only seven shelters are currently open 24/7. Five of those facilities are being kept open through the use of $1 billion in stimulus funds, which will run out soon.
Erika Tindill, executive director for the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that each year the group asks for the shelters to be staffed around the clock at an estimated cost to the state of $3 million.
“Domestic violence,” she said, “does not stop in a recession, does not stop due to budget constraints.”
In addition to the $3 million for shelter coverage, domestic violence shelters also are owed money collected through the state’s marriage license surcharge. The current law does not designate a date for distribution of the funds.
“If the Department of Social Services were distributing that money annually, on average they could give each member program of CCADV $10,000,” Tindill said.
That amount depends on the number of people who apply for marriage licenses in the state, a number which has increased due to the state Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriages in Oct. 2008.
The group’s “Five Point Legislative Plan” also calls for changes to the Family Violence Education Program that would disqualify those charged with making serious violent threats to family members, which is defined in state criminal statutes as second-degree threatening, a misdemeanor. Completing the program gives first time offenders the opportunity to have the charges against them dismissed.
“Currently, an offender is prohibited from participating in the Family Violence Education Program only if he’s charged with a felony, a serious crime, and what does that mean? It means that he’s already committed a serious crime. It’s not preventing it,” State’s Attorney Patricia Froehlich for the Judicial District of Windham, said. “It’s our position that those who threaten to commit a serious crime should be taken seriously and should not be allowed to benefit from a diversionary program which results in a dismissal, which means no criminal record.”
This point would change the persistent offender statute to look at crimes as far back as 10 years instead of five, as well as crimes committed in other states.
The five-point plan also seeks changes in state employment law that would allow victims of domestic violence to take paid and unpaid leave from work to seek treatment, relocate, or appear in court, all without the threat of losing their jobs.
In addition it is asking for state-mandated curricula for grades K-12 on healthy relationships.
“Aren’t we better off spending money now to teach our children respect for each other and for themselves rather than spending it later to deal with violence, death, and the destruction of our families?” Tyler asked.
The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence also will push the legislature to adopt the recommendations of the Domestic Violence in Immigrant Communities Task Force.
The Domestic Violence Task Force will meet Feb. 8 and vote on it’s own recommendations to the legislature, which will cover the coalition’s legislative agenda.