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Catalyst Endowment Fund Meeting Summary: June 11, 2015

Members take a closer look at 2015 theme: “Preventing Harm: Domestic Violence and the Effect on Our Community.”

 

More than 90 members and guests attended the Catalyst Endowment Fund’s second program of 2015 at Real Art Ways (RAW) in Hartford which took a closer look at the theme “Preventing Harm: Domestic Violence and the Effect on Our Community.”

Before the program, 18 Catalyst members visited Family Life Education’s (FLE) Brighter Futures Family Center next door to Real Art Ways, an organization that received a 2014 Catalyst grant for early childhood literacy programs. After viewing a short video about the agency, executive director Candida Flores and Dr. Lou Loomis spoke about the Children’s Fitness/Wellness Center and the Catalyst grant to help create a young child cognitive learning component for children birth to three. Members were treated to a tour of the facility before walking next door for the evening’s program.

After a reception in the lobby of Real Art Ways, the formal event started off with a warm welcome from RAW’s executive director, Will K. Wilkins, who shared some of the history of the organization’s unique and diverse past and current projects. Catalyst steering committee chair Andrew Worthington also welcomed the guests and provided a brief summary of the March Catalyst meeting, including an update on legislation considered this year by the Connecticut General Assembly. Legislation intended to allow police to temporarily take firearms away from persons served with temporary restraining orders was approved by the State Senate but was never debated in the House before the end of the session on June 3.

Worthington introduced Kyle Pinto, MSW, a National Trainer with David Mandel & Associates. Pinto facilitates training and consultation services for child welfare, fatherhood and home visiting professionals. During his brief but powerful presentation, (see slides here,) Pinto discussed the need to hold men, who make up approximately 90 percent of all perpetrators of domestic violence, to a much higher standard. Pinto discussed the fact that the general public tends to ask much more of mothers than they do of husbands. Pinto explained how this view has also been perpetuated in the way domestic violence is handled in the courts and in law enforcement.

Pinto also stressed the fact that domestic violence is not the result of mental health issues, drug abuse or socio-economic status. It is its own thing, and it is about control. Pinto described the challenges faced by children in these cases who often suffer from trauma and struggle with loss of contact with extended family members, educational disruptions, housing instability, developmental delays and conflict resolution.

Following Mr. Pinto’s presentation, Catalyst members were divided into three groups scattered in different locations throughout the building. Each group was visited by the four presenters, including Pinto, and given opportunities for Q & A and further discussion. Other presenters were Joe Froehlich, former police officer and current director of law enforcement services for the Network against Domestic Violence, Yolande Spears and Angela Pierce, both survivors of domestic violence.

Joe Froehlich shared his experience as a young detective nearly 20 years ago dealing with a domestic violence case that resulted in the victim being killed by her spouse. Despite law enforcement’s desire to help, laws and protective measures were not in place at that time that could prevent this tragedy.

The infamous “Tracey Thurman case” in the mid-eighties, in which a lawsuit was filed against the police department for failing to protect her from her abusive husband, set a new precedent and forced new policies to be implemented. When officers report to a scene now and find probable cause, they arrest the perpetrator.

While Froehlich said the protocols were an improvement, offenders are still released and often continue abusing their pattern of abuse. To better protect victims, there are now conditions of release and victims are asked to be proactive about their safety. This effort includes the introduction of the “Lethality Assessment,” a questionnaire that enables officers to screen for domestic violence markers. As a result of these efforts, law enforcement is better able to identify someone in a high danger situation and 75% of victims talk to advocates and make safety plans for themselves and their families.

According to Froehlich, 58 police departments in the State of Connecticut are using at least one of the 18 Domestic Violence programs available; advocates are seeking to have all 110 police departments in the state trained and implementing one of these programs. A variety of questions from Catalyst members focused on law enforcement’s challenges related to the wide variety of languages and cultures found in our community. Others asked questions related to the adequacy of existing procedures in terms of protecting victims.

The third presentation rotation was by Yolande Spears and Angela Pierce who shared details about their past abusive relationships and the struggle to make the difficult decision to finally leave. Spears read a personal story she had contributed to the book “Wake Up: Live the Life You Love” which described one of many instances of being subject to abuse by her controlling and volatile husband. She lived in a good community and she had a good job. Her husband was in law school. She loved him and wanted to believe that things would change. She hid what was going on from family and friends for a long time. “These horrible things do not happen to people like us.” It took a very violent incident for her to seek help and plot her escape for months before she finally left him.

Angela Pierce then shared her story, describing how her husband’s repeated abuse resulted in multiple appearances in the Hartford court system, but despite the court’s urging her to see a victim’s advocate, she failed to pursue help and actually defended and supported her husband despite multiple recurrences. Pierce was not the one who initially contacted the police after being abused, it was her neighbors. Her daughter being diagnosed with bone cancer served as a wake-up call and Pierce’s daughter told her that she couldn’t live like this anymore. Pierce called the police was informed that her husband was in fact a repeat offender and wanted for domestic violence in another state. She became afraid that he was going to kill her and finally made the difficult decision to leave her four bedroom house in the suburbs and move into a shelter, leaving her children with her mother. Her husband is now serving 11 years in prison. Pierce is pulling her life back together and recently graduated from college.

Many of the questions for Pierce and Spears related to the types of supports they relied upon when they finally left their abusers. Both emphasized the importance of having a safe place to stay and having a support system to rely upon to help them as they start off on a new life. Money for everyday living expenses is difficult to find.

The meeting ended with a brief wrap-up of the discussions, and Andrew Worthington encouraged members to focus on potential program areas for this year’s grant applications. A Request for Proposals will go out to area agencies this summer. Catalyst members will review grant applications in the fall and are schedule to meet to select a worthy proposal on October 7.

 


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