Onondaga County, NY Pushes for Public Awareness to end Domestic Violence

Randi Bregman, Executive Director of Vera House in Syracuse, gives the organization’s annual Report to the Community Wednesday ELLEN ABBOTT / WRVO NEWS

The contagious myth that domestic violence takes place in private and should accordingly be kept from public consciousness has infected many communities throughout the U.S. Onondaga County in New York, however, believes they have found the perfect antidote to ending the epidemic of public ignorance on issues of domestic violence: transparency.

Each year, Vera House, a domestic and sexual violence service agency based in Syracuse, publishes an Annual Community Report. In an interview with The Daily Orange, Randi Bregman, executive director of Vera House, emphasized the importance of public knowledge of domestic violence in every community.

“Every incident of domestic and sexual violence is, in fact, a public issue,” said Bregman. “Having a public opportunity to talk about the impact, to let the survivors’ stories be heard, is essential.”

The 2016 report published by Vera House for Onondaga County showed a significant improvement in law enforcement’s supervision of domestic violence offenders since beginning their mission to end public ignorance. In 2015, Onondaga County’s Department of Probation supervised 220 offenders. The very next year, almost one thousand offenders were under direct supervision and over one thousand were issued temporary orders of protection by the Onondaga County Family Court, a critical increase from only 959 the year before.

Below, Figure 1 shows the remaining data Vera House acquired from law enforcement crime reports for the 2016 year. The data shows that out of 10,963 total calls of reported domestic violence disputes, 6,696 were answered by the authorities.

Figure 1

The Vera House report does not account for homicides that occur as a result of domestic dispute. William Fitzpatrick, an Onondaga County district attorney and director of the Victim Assistance Program (VAP), stated that one out of every four homicides in Onondaga County is directly related to domestic violence. Syracuse, the largest community in the county with a population of 140,000, had a total of 31 homicides in 2016, six of which were directly linked to domestic violence; several are still under investigation.

Elevating public knowledge about the ravages of domestic violence is part of the mission of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). NCADV’s report showed that, of all intimate partner homicides, 20% of victims were not the intimate partner of the offender, but close family, friends, neighbors, law enforcement, or third-party bystanders.  These collateral damage statistics don’t often show up in the national numbers surrounding aggregate domestic violence homicides. 

In addition to the loss of life, NCADV’s National Statistics Domestic Violence Fact Sheet shows an undeviating correlation between domestic violence and economic defects in a community. About 20-60% of domestic violence victims lose their jobs as a result of their abuse. This accumulates to a total loss of eight million days of paid work per year or 32,000 full time jobs. It is estimated that this inability to work costs the U.S. economy between $5.8 billion and $12.6 billion annually.

The connections are clear: domestic violence may occur in private, unseen by much of the public eye, but it has an undeniable ripple effect across American communities. In addition to the economic and familial aftermath, local officials must strive to educate themselves on issues regarding domestic violence and contribute to the public’s understanding as often as possible. Similar to Big Mountain Data, organizations such as the Vera House work closely with law enforcement agencies across the nation to make this knowledge easily accessible to the public. 

 

Connecticut Law Obfuscates Abuser Accountability

Thanks to a change in Connecticut law, law enforcement agencies in that state may not report the names and addresses of people accused of Top Secretdomestic violence crimes. Supporters of the new state law say the change guarantees confidentiality to domestic violence. In most cases, they say, releasing the name or address of the offender results in the release of the victim’s identity.

Here’s the key section of Public Act No. 15-211, Sec. 24, Section 54-86e: all names and addresses of victims of domestic violence remain confidential “and shall be disclosed only upon order of the Superior Court.”

Although the intention of the law is to prevent re-victimization, Big Mountain Data opposes the move. The law stands in direct opposition to our philosophy: Only by publicly identifying perpetrators and holding them accountable for their criminal actions can we end domestic violence. We support public access to the names of perpetrators as well as statistics about arrests, convictions and other details about domestic violence offenders.

After the policy became law in July, the police department in the town of Redding changed its official policy, apparently becoming the first agency in the state to do so. Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) told The Redding Pilot in November that she supported the Redding department’s move and hoped the decision would spur open discussion of the issue.

“I do support this policy because it offers confidentiality for the victim. We are, therefore, not outing the perpetrator, but from where I sit, offering confidentiality is the stronger [objective],” Jarmoc said in November.

The Connecticut law conflicts with another state law – one that requires identification of anyone who is arrested. Connecticut lawmakers got around this by approving legislation Oct. 1 that exempts law enforcement records from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act under eight circumstances. One is “if they were compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of crime and disclosure would not be in the public interest because it would reveal … the name and address of the victim of sexual assault or risk of injury to a minor.”

Thomas A. Hennick, public education officer for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, told The Easton Courier the dispute reveals “a conflict in interpretation,” adding, “there is no such thing as a secret arrest in Connecticut.”

We’ll keep an eye out to see how this issue evolves. It may take a legal challenge from a media outlet, relative or concerned citizen to push the issue into court. In the meantime, we respectfully disagree with CADV’s Jarmoc that the Connecticut law is a good thing. But we agree with her on this: Let’s debate this issue publicly.