Woman at lectern
Cheryl is a survivor of domestic abuse. Credit: Mike Savino / CTNewsJunkie

With Domestic Violence Awareness Month right around the corner, service providers and victim advocates are hoping to shine a spotlight on both the resources available and the need for more help.

“We really view domestic violence, family violence, intimate partner violence as a public health crisis,” Megan Scanlon, president and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said during a press conference Wednesday. 

She also said shelters have been housing victims at 150% of their capacity, and organizations have had to even find hotel rooms to help address the lack of space. 

That’s because reports of domestic violence spiked during COVID, accelerating a trend that continues long after lockdowns have been lifted. 

CCADV organized a Wednesday press conference to highlight a range of resources and laws available to help victims of domestic violence. 

Scanlon also said the organization wanted to make people aware of the types of behavior  that make up domestic, intimate partner and family violence. She said even service providers are sometimes not aware. 

“We really want to normalize the conversation about healthy relationships and what is abuse,” she said. 

A revamped website for the Safe Connect even details both violence and nonviolent behaviors, including when someone uses finances, technology, verbal abuse and even litigation to try and control another person. 

For people who are in an abusive relationship, Scanlon and others said the state has resources to help victims. 

Cheryl, a domestic violence survivor who didn’t want to give her last name, described an incident when her ex-husband tried to kill her. A neighbor was able to save her, and police later determined she was at a high risk for being murdered. 

Police referred her to Safe Futures, a shelter based in New London, and Cheryl was able to end her marriage with her husband. 

She described a lengthy fight to gain full custody of her kids though, including having to get them out of foster care after the Department of Children and Families got involved. 

After that, her husband was able to win joint custody.

Cheryl said that ended after her kids came home with injuries from abuse: her daughter had a bruise from being kicked in the spine, and her son had a concussion. 

“No one deserves to live in fear — no one,” she said. “It is never okay for someone to blame you because they hit you. It is never your fault.” 

Cheryl said support from Safe Futures has helped her and her children move on safely. She also said the support is needed because she, like a lot of victims, grew up in an abusive household before entering into an abusive relationship of her own. 

“My dad hit my mom,” Cheryl said. “I always said I would never be in that situation, but I married someone like my dad.” 

Victims like Cheryl can request help 24 hours a day by calling or texting (888) 774-2900.

Katherine Verano, CEO of Safe Futures, said the system to support victims like Cheryl is stretched thin. 

“Last year Safe Futures served close to 10,000 victims with 122,000 contacts, and unfortunately the need is growing,” she said. 

Advocates said roughly one-third of criminal court dockets are cases that involve a domestic or intimate partner crime. 

CCADV, meanwhile, said police did 11,439 lethality screenings in 2022, asking a series of 11 questions to assess whether victims face immediate danger from a family member or intimate partner. 

Police determined a victim faced a high danger of being murdered in 58% of cases, or nearly 6,600. The questions include whether someone has used weapons, violence or threats against a victim, and whether the person has immediate access to weapons. 

Scanlon described the rise in cases as being “much more physical.” 

Scanlon and Verano said they’re groups will always take care of victims, but also warned that an already difficult task will get even harder after American Rescue Plan Act funding runs out.

They estimated the 18 providers in the coalition have received $2 million to $3 million in additional funds to shelter victims, but that money will expire. 

Wednesday’s press conference also highlighted new laws in recent years aimed at protecting domestic violence victims. 

Attorney General William Tong, a former lawmaker, noted the legislature in 2018 passed a dominant aggressor law that discourages dual arrests. 

In the past, some police officers resorted to arresting both parties during domestic violence calls, a practice advocates said discourages victims from coming forward. 

The dominant aggressor law doesn’t ban dual arrests but does task officers with determining that a person was at fault before charging them. 

The legislature also adopted a law in 2016 requiring anyone who is the subject of a temporary restraining order to turn over their firearms to police.

The law is named after Lori Jackson, who in 2014 was granted a temporary restraining order against her husband, Scott Gellatly. Gellatly was in Massachusetts and unable to be served with the restraining order. He legally purchased a gun and then used it to kill Jackson.

Opponents are challenging a similar law at the federal level, with the case awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. Tong and CCADV have filed amicus briefs arguing the law should stand. 

“It’s just, to me let me just say, beyond offensive that somebody would waste their time challenging a law to protect, let’s be honest, largely women and children,” he said. 

A Texas man is challenging the federal law on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional.