06282017Headline:

Domestic Violence Partnership marks 10 years in New Canaan

Words can wound. So can fists.

Whether the words are flung behind the closed doors of a home — along with a slap or a punch to a spouse or a child — or whether these actions occur between two teenagers who are dating, or the hurtful words are written on a Facebook wall, domestic violence and bullying hurt. And sometimes, the physical or emotional abuse hurts so badly, it kills.

In an effort to shed light on the issue of domestic violence, relationship abuse and bullying, since October 1987 the month has been named National Domestic Violence Month. Also in 1987, the first national toll-free domestic abuse hotline was begun. In 1989, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month Commemorative Legislation was passed by the U.S. Congress and such legislation has passed every year since with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence providing key leadership in this effort.

Here in New Canaan, awareness of domestic violence has, for the past 10 years, been brought to the fore by the Domestic Violence Partnership of New Canaan, spearheaded by resident Dede Bartlett of New Canaan, an outspoken advocate for domestic violence prevention and education around the country since the mid-90s. The New Canaan Health and Human Services Department has also been active with the Domestic Violence Partnership, as well as on its own bringing attention to domestic violence issues, taking phone calls from victims of domestic violence or following up with them after a family dispute, counseling them, and creating awareness programs and events for teens in town.

The genesis of DVP

Bartlett, the co-chairman of the Domestic Violence Partnership and an authority and frequent speaker on domestic violence issues to business and civic groups and to college students around the country, was the chairman of the board of advisors of the National Domestic Violence Hotline 10 years ago. At the time, she invited the executive director of the national hotline, Sheryl Cates, to come to New Canaan to meet with various people in town from the faith community, town government, and then-New Canaan Police Chief Chris Lynch and First Selectman Judy Neville, as well as a reporter from the Advertiser, who covered a conversation between Cates and Lynch on the subject of domestic violence.

“I will always be indebted to the Advertiser,” Bartlett said. “The article made the front page, the first such story on domestic violence in this town. Suddenly, because of this, there was a breaking of the ice, the curtains were drawn, and the chief got a hold of me and said, ‘I’m starting to get phone calls, what do we do?’ So, in the fall of 2003, we had a meeting at Vine Cottage, with the chief and Carol MacDonald [director of Health and Human Services], with people from the Domestic Violence Crisis Center [of Stamford], and we said, what we need to do is, we need to have everybody get training,” she said. “First, the police officers need training for how to handle themselves on domestic violence calls, and we need to be raising awareness … this was the dawn … this has got to be something we’ll do in town, and that was the genesis, that was the seeds of the partnership.”

The first official meeting as of the partnership took place in March of ‘04.

“We knew we wanted to do one special thing,” Bartlett said. “We didn’t want to replicate the work that Jacki [Jacqueline D’Louhy, Youth and Family Services Coordinator] and her folks were doing, we didn’t want to try and be DVCC — because they were already doing a superb job. We wanted to be a group of folks whose goal was simple: we were going to raise awareness of domestic violence issues and help people get help. That was it.”

The partnership’s initial thrust was to help women in crisis here in New Canaan, because, according to Bartlett, “people in this town thought domestic violence happened to someone else, somewhere else — because this is the ‘Next Station to Heaven’ after all — it doesn’t happen here. There were a lot of misconceptions here in town. People thought domestic violence happened along ethnic lines, they thought it was around racial lines. That it was in South Norwalk, tough parts of Stamford, anywhere but here. But, believe me; it’s here.”

Educating children

Around 2007, Bartlett had been working with domestic violence colleagues around the country and “we began seeing some really toxic things happening among kids in schools — reports of real problems with dating violence,” she said. “Technology was exacerbating this and we saw the same issues with domestic violence we were dealing with within the ‘mature community’ — women over the age of 25 — were happening with young girls and a lot of it was because of technology. So, what we began in 2003 became a much broader set of issues, and we made a decision as a partnership to spend a lot more time focusing on healthy relationships in middle school and high school.”

About five years ago, the Health and Human Services Department also began to shift its focus to include education and awareness-raising efforts of domestic violence in the schools.

“When Dede and the partnership started to put the attention on the kids, we started to do a ‘Respect Pledge’ at Saxe Middle School,” D’Louhy said. “For a few years in October, to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we had kids help us put purple ribbons around on trees and lampposts downtown, and last year we had purple balloons in the lobby at the high school.

“Kate [Boyle, the new Youth and Family Services Specialist] and I are trying to sit down with the schools and New Canaan Cares, because there are gaps. Maybe the kids aren’t getting all the information they need, and  maybe there is some redundancy in what we’re doing. We want to help the kids sharpen their skills.”

“One way to break the cycle is to make sure kids don’t replicate the behavior of their parents,” Bartlett said. “These kids are silent victims. The boys will become just like their dads, the girls will become victims like their moms. I have heard the phrase, ‘Bullies are batterers in training.’ It’s true. If we can change behaviors and show healthy relationships at any early age, you can avoid a world and a lifetime of pain.”

Events

For the past five years, in the beginning of October, a Domestic Violence Proclamation is read out front of New Canaan High School to kick off Domestic Violence Awareness Month, as part of the initiative to educate teens about the dangers of bullying and dating violence. As has become tradition, the proclamation is read by the first selectman.

In part, it read this year: “Whereas, one in three women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime; and Whereas, one in four teens will experience dating abuse during this coming year; and Whereas, one in five teenagers report knowing a friend who has been hit, kicked, slapped or choked by a partner; and Whereas, teens that were in a verbally abusive relationship were four times more likely to attempt suicide … I, Robert E. Mallozzi III, First Selectman, proclaim October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the Town of New Canaan.”

Events sponsored by the Health and Human Services Department this month include “Purple Fridays,” which is supported by New Canaan Youth-Adult Partnership (YAPB), where students are encouraged to wear purple on Fridays during October, and a Respect Pledge will be offered at Saxe towards the end of the month. Volunteers with the Domestic Violence Partnership, as well as student groups and organizations, will also spread awareness of available domestic violence resources by meeting with commuters at the train station platform later this month.

Last Friday, Oct. 4, was Purple Friday in the village. Purple flowers, donated by Bon Fleur, were distributed by seventh grade members of the National Charity League and Youth Services to town merchants and residents on Elm and Main streets.

“It’s important to remember, that domestic violence happens 365 days a year, not just during the month of October,” said Bartlett. “Domestic violence is really scary. The only answer is, awareness, awareness, awareness.”

More info/help: Domestic Violence Partnership at 203-594-3076, Domestic Violence Crisis Center 24-hour Hotline (Toll Free): 888- 774-2900, Health and Human Services at 203-594-3081, New Canaan Police Department/Domestic Violence Officer Mike O’Sullivan at 203-594-3500, National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

What Next?

Related Articles