According to advocates for the victims of domestic violence, over the last two years the number of people seeking their agencies’ services has spiked, and they are using the month of October – which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – to make people more aware of the issue.
“I get that October is overloaded, but this is the month Congress gave us to make hay,” said Mary Jane Foster, executive director of Hartford-based Interval House. “We need to maximize every minute of it. It is the month when more people are paying attention. We just have to go full tilt and so we do.”
Interval House was founded in the basement of a Hartford church in 1977 and is the largest Connecticut nonprofit dedicated to ending domestic violence. The agency, which is one of 18 similar in the state, has organized several events throughout the month of October, starting with a press conference on Monday at 11:30 a.m. at Capital Community College in Hartford.
US Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Capital Community College CEO Dr. G. Duncan Harris and Foster are expected to be in attendance as well as 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 men of influence who would stand for ending violence against women and be role models for boys and men,” Foster said. She noted tht 20% of their services last year went to men, and she also said 1 in 4 women are affected by domestic violence.
“Someone you know or will know at some point in his or her life has experienced domestic violence,” Foster said.
Interval House, whose staff provides services for people in 24 Hartford-area communities, had 6,800 clients in 2021, according to Foster, up from 5,500 two years before. She said calls to their hotline were up 57% since 2020.
Public safety officials announced this week that violent crime was down overall in 2021, incidents of rape increased by 23%, while murder and manslaughter were up about 2%. While there are other organizations who work specifically with rape victims, Foster said Interval House does work with women who have been raped. Out of the 150 people who died from either murder or manslaughter in Connecticut last year, 32 were domestic violence victims.
“What we know is that the numbers have increased dramatically and the intensity of the violence has increased – there is no question about that,” Foster said of her organization’s domestic violence data.
Foster said her agency is constantly working on ways to get information about their programs to people who need the help, including shoe cards, which are cards that can be ripped along a perforated edge so it can fit into someone’s shoe. “Then they use that information when it is safe for them to do so,” she said.
Shoe cards have been placed in restrooms – including men’s restrooms – in buildings wherever Interval House has access, such as churches and Hartford Hospital. Foster has worked with human resource directors at various companies to place the cards in their restrooms.
“It’s hard because we have a very small army so keeping people supplied is not always easy,” Foster said. “We get them out by the thousands, and there is always a need.”
Debra Greenwood, who is CEO and President of The Center for Family Justice (CFJ) in Bridgeport, said her organization offered services to 5,500 people who were victims of domestic violence last year in the six communities the CFJ serves: Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford, and Trumbull. Greenwood said demand for services were up 32% compared to last year – a trend she called “the second pandemic.”
To honor the 32 lives lost to domestic violence in 2021, CFJ will host a vigil on Wednesday, Oct. 12, from 6 until 8 p.m. at the Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater.
CFJ has launched its Empowerhouse Project – a new, expanded safe house for victims and their families to receive services all under one roof – to meet the increasing demand. Greenwood said she hopes to open the new facility in the summer in 2023. The organization received $865,000 in federal funds to help complete the transitional house, the group announced in May.