Domestic Violence Awareness Month brings societal issue to the forefront

  • Megan Fulton. Courtesy photo—

  • 2943541121_20b10e08ca_b_Originaldomestic violence

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/13/2021 5:01:36 PM

Data from recent reports shows the true scope of domestic violence in New Hampshire.

Between 2018 and 2019, 21 people lost their lives as a result of domestic violence in New Hampshire, representing 45 percent of all homicides in the state during that two-year span, according to the New Hampshire Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee biennial report.

“This represents a dramatic increase from the prior reporting period, confirming domestic violence remains one of the most prevalent legal and social problems in the United States,” the report read.

Domestic violence was a factor in all of the state’s murder/suicides in 2018 and 44 percent of the murder/suicides in 2019, the report stated. Over a full decade, there were 170 homicides that occurred in New Hampshire between 2009 and 2019, and of those, 51 percent were a result of domestic violence.

“For the first time in several years, the number of domestic violence homicides committed by a family member is down, but the number of domestic violence homicides committed by an intimate partner is up significantly, from 25% in the last report to 67% this reporting period,” the committee report reads.

From 2018-2019, 86 percent of victims of New Hampshire domestic violence homicides were women and 95 percent of the perpetrators were men, according to the report. In the same two-year span, 7,934 domestic violence petitions were filed statewide by people requesting protection from abuse.

From March 1 to Sept. 30, 2020, the NH Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence and its 12 partner organizations across the state saw a 63 percent total increase in crisis calls from the same time period in 2019, according to data compiled by NHCADSV.

A total of 66,685 calls were made to hotlines and crisis centers, up from 40,920 between March 1 and Sept. 30, 2019. There were a total of 5,477 victims of domestic violence statewide in that six-plus month period.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which was launched nationwide by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in October 1987 as a way to connect and unite individuals and organizations working on domestic violence issues while raising awareness.

‘I had been in worsesituations’

Janet, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, said the start to her most recent relationship six years ago was typical.

“He was so nice and sweet,” she said. He was a likable person, she said, and it went really well for a while. Then things changed. Janet said he was narcissistic and controlling, forcing her to alienate her friends and family, many of who didn’t agree with the relationship.

“I think it’s because they saw right through him,” Janet said.

She had been in abusive relationships before and she quickly found herself in another cycle of abuse. When Janet found out she was pregnant, she left. They were living in another area of the country and her parents bought her a plane ticket to come home, getting a ride to the airport from the local sheriff’s department.

“But he would tell me I wasn’t leaving him with his baby inside me,” Janet said. Five months later, she gave it another chance after being convinced it would be different.

“When it was good, we were the happiest couple ever and I think that’s what I held on to,” she said.

It was different upon their reconciliation, but it didn’t last. Yet she didn’t want her child to grow up with separated parents. She has a teenager from a previous failed relationship and “I didn’t want that again,” she said.

“So I held on to a family for as long as I could and it was doing more damage,” Janet said.

She said the physical abuse returned, things like being grabbed by the arm, pushing, getting spit at. But this wasn’t the first abusive relationship for Janet, having been put in the hospital on two occasions by a previous partner.

“I had been in worse situations,” she said. “A little pushing and spitting was nothing to me.”

The problem with her abusers is that to others the relationships seemed normal.

“The couple of men that I’ve been with that have been abusive, they’re a totally different person in front of people,” Janet said.

In her most recent relationship, Janet said the police were called six times, including this June.

Last fall, Janet found herself alone with her child without permanent housing as her partner left the state for work. There were promises of sending money home, but it never happened. After she told her partner it was over, her son’s teacher gave her the number for Shelter From The Storm in Jaffrey, a local program providing transitional housing and support services for those who have become homeless due to a variety of circumstances, including domestic violence.

“Within two weeks I was put into an apartment,” Janet said. She talked to an MCVP advocate when she entered Shelter From The Storm, but has not cut off all ties, which is not abnormal for victims.

Janet still sees her child’s father because “I want them to have a relationship.” And she knows it’s not something she should be doing. Her family and friends remind her of that.

“But my mind still has that thread of hope that he will be normal someday,” she said.

Help is available

Megan Fulton, development director at Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention, said the organization gets referrals from a number of different places, like hospitals, police departments, courts, home service agencies and employers.

When a call does come in, Fulton said there is a critical first step that must be taken.

“One of the first things that we do is validate a survivor’s experience,” Fulton said.

She said it’s important to let a victim know they are not alone and to help them work through whatever feelings they may have.

“Coming to us is no small feat, no small decision,” Fulton said. “But they are usually at a point where they need a change and that’s scary, it’s hard.”

Fulton said it’s simply about letting people know someone is there to listen. It is about empowering them in their decision to escape an abusive situation and providing the tools to move forward, which means help with housing, court support or getting a protection order.

Some callers are not ready to make a change and just need someone to talk to and Fulton said that is why they are there.

“Sometimes it’s having that conversation a couple times,” she said. “Maybe they’re not ready to take that next step. It’s easy for us as concerned family members to just say ‘why don’t you leave?’”

That’s why being there to talk through situations is so important. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

“It’s devastating as an advocate to send people away knowing they’re going back to a potentially dangerous situation,” Fulton said.

Sometimes they never call again “and we never know what happened,” she said.

Fulton said a number of barriers prevent people from leaving unhealthy relationships – kids, housing, pets, finances. She said domestic violence can happen in new relationships or long-term marriages.

“It’s not that simple,” she said.

She said that MCVP offers a number of options for those looking to get out of a situation with referrals for housing, placement in an emergency shelter or help with purchasing a plane or bus ticket.

She said a common misconception is when people can reach out.

“People think they can’t access our services until there’s physical violence,” Fulton said. “But oftentimes it never gets physical.”

Fulton said domestic violence can be mental or emotional abuse and “it can be equally, if not more” damaging.

She said victims can incur instances of gaslighting and isolation, controlling behaviors about what they wear or who they talk to.

“All of this can happen without there being physical violence,” Fulton said. “And there are definitely resources for someone no matter what they’re going through.”

Fulton said having October dedicated to domestic violence awareness helps bring light to the situation, but it is a problem that persists every day, year round.

In 2019, MCVP served 953 survivors and 693 in 2020, and there are many theories as to why the numbers decreased.

“One of them being that loss of freedom really affected survivors’ ability to access our services,” Fulton said of the pandemic.

She said the numbers for 2021 are close to surpassing last year’s. And for those who feel like they need to talk, there is always someone available.

“If they can safely call us or access our services, do it,” Fulton said.

She said for those who have their every step monitored, there is a quick exit button on the MCVP website, but doing things like clearing website browsing history and phone calls is a way to avoid having an abuser learn that contact had been made.

Shelter From The Storm Executive Director Linda Harris said of the current five occupants of the nonprofits apartments, at least two have dealt with domestic violence.

“We see probably one in three, one in four guests that have had domestic violence issues,” Harris said.

They partner with MCVP and can put a guest in touch with an advocate.

“But it’s sometimes difficult for people to talk about it,” Harris said. In that case she just lets everyone know there are resources available. Housing victims of domestic violence adds an extra layer of complications when it comes to safety. That’s why the locations of the organization’s housing are kept secret.

“We have to make sure we don’t put ourselves in difficult situations,” she said.

The courts

Phil Runyon, the former Jaffrey-Peterborough District Court judge who presided on the bench for 27 years, said one time he got a late-night call from the Berlin (NH) Police Station about a domestic violence situation looking for court-ordered protection.

“They just couldn’t reach anybody else,” he said. And as Runyon said, it was not all that uncommon to get a call from a local police department at 3 a.m.

Runyon said he would talk to the victim and if requested, by either the victim or the police officer, an emergency protective order would be put into place. The emergency order would only be good until 4 p.m. the following day, where the victim would have to come to the court and file for a temporary order.

Runyon said if they did come to the court, he would meet with them in his chambers to talk about what happened. If he felt it necessary, a temporary order would be granted until a final hearing could take place. Although not everyone would continue the process.

“Many times they wouldn’t show up and the order would expire,” Runyon said. Others did and asked to withdraw, citing the need to give the person another chance.

“The cycle of this is several petitions get filed and dropped before someone is really going to follow through,” he said.

When there would be a hearing, Runyon said he would listen to both sides, oftentimes resulting in quite different versions of what transpired.

“When you get this 180-degree difference between the stories, you have to figure out what might have happened,” he said. “And these come with serious consequences if you believe the wrong one.”

Runyon said if there was physical evidence, it is hard to deny what occurred, but there wasn’t always a bruise or cuts to help explain the situation.

“Sometimes it was apparent right away and you make a decision right there in the courtroom,” he said.

Runyon said a temporary order will last up to a year, when the victim would then have to refile to get it extended.

When it comes to domestic violence protection cases, Runyon said they were quite prevalent when he served the court.

“I’d say in the course of a year, we’d get a couple hundred of them filed,” he said.

And each one comes with significant risk.

“There’s this real risk that you get convinced by the defendant that it was a complete overreaction,” Runyon said. “And if you are convinced and don’t grant the order, there’s a risk that something really bad can happen.”

But in the end, even if a protection order is granted, Runyon said it was quite common for them to be broken, which is a criminal offense. In the end, it’s only a piece of paper, he said.

Runyon said domestic issues have always been a part of society but for a long time would “get pushed under the rug.”

How to get help

MCVP operates in Keene, and serves all of Cheshire County and 14 towns in Western Hillsborough County. The crisis hotline, which can be accessed by calling (603) 352-3782 or toll free at 1-888-511-MCVP (6287) is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by staff and trained volunteer Crisis Intervention Workers.

New Hampshire’s statewide hotline is 1-866-644-3574. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

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