On Tuesday the YWCA held their annual domestic violence vigil outdoors. It was a warm night and a rare break from the rain.
As the sun set, candles were lit for the 21 victims who lost their lives to domestic violence in Connecticut over the past year were memorialized.
A highlight of the event was the presentation of the 2023 Purple Ribbon Award to Greenwich Animal Control officers Suzanne Ondreicka an Stacy Rameor, as well as kennel manager Bill Petersen who have provided short term shelter for the pets of YWCA clients transitioning to safety.
The award was presented by Manager of Crisis Services Lisa Tella, and Brooke Pi, a Crisis and Housing Advocate with the Harmony Project.
“We have seen and heard so many times when someone is looking to leave a domestic violence situation that they feel they cannot leave because they have a pet they don’t want to leave behind,” Tella said. “Or it may be an animal not permitted in the shelter, or they cannot leave their pet in a shelter all day when they go to work or to court dates.
“Without hesitation, Suzanne, Stacy and Bill offered their dog runs, cages and tanks to animals caught in the middle of domestic violence. They offered food, shelter, safety and companionship to cats and dogs that needed a place to stay temporarily while their owners were in shelter and planning the next safe steps in their lives.”
“Abusive partners can act out at any hour or day, and victims need services around the clock, Tella added. “Even on very short notice, Greenwich Animal Control has found room to accommodate the pets of our clients.”
Rosie Enyart, the YWCA Violence Prevention coordinator, Harmony Project, explained that in some cases a partner will threaten to hurt or actually hurt a companion animal as a method of control and a form of emotional violence.
Half of domestic violence victims will not leave an abusive situation because they are afraid of what will happen to their pet.
Domestic abuse erodes the autonomy of victims. Abusive behaviors and coercive control take on many forms including verbal insults and threats, emotional manipulation and isolate from friends and family, digital monitoring tactics and harassment, sexual coercion and manipulation, financial extortion and control, and of course, physical intimidation and violence.
Leaving an abusive relationship often takes multiple attempts before a victim can leave safely. And there is the very real fear that if they try to end the relationship an abusive partner will hurt the victim or someone they love.
The most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when they try to leave the relationship. This is the ultimate loss of power and control for their abusive partner.
CEO Mary Lee Kiernan said last year alone, YWCA staff responded to over 4,000 hotline calls, which is a number above pre-pandemic norms.
Also, many clients walk-in rather than calling, and the number of walk-ins has returned to pre-pandemic norms as well.
“Overall our clients continue to present with more complex needs than before 2020, and continue to face systemic barriers such as lack of affordable housing for those who decide to leave their abusive partners,” she said.
The YWCA Greenwich is the only state designated provider of domestic violence services in town, where domestic violence remains the town’s number one violent crime.
No one is turned away and all the YWCA Greenwich’s services are free.
As of July 1, the YWCA added sexual violence services to their range of domestic violence services and changed the name of the consolidated effort to the Harmony Project, an expansion that was six years in the making.
“There is a profound overlap between domestic violence and the various forms of sexual violence – sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment and human trafficking,” Kiernan said. “So the the addition of sexual violence services is a natural progression as we seek to provide comprehensive services right here in our community.”
YWCA Greenwich is just the fifth agency in Connecticut to provide a full range of domestic violence and sexual violence services, and Kiernan said the response from clients and key partners including Greenwich Police and Greenwich Hospital had been gratifying.
Each year the YWCA designates a week in October as The National Week without Violence, part of a global YWCA movement to end violence against women and girls.
This year’s theme is, “Not on Our Screens and Not in Our Streets.”
The week emphasized that digital and online abuse are powerful and and growing forms of coercion and violence, particularly among youth.
Kiernan said the YWCA was closely following United States v. Rahimi, a case poised to go before the US Supreme Court.
The case concerns the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and whether it confers the government’s ability to prohibit firearm possession by a person with a domestic violence civil restraining order.
“We know the profound connection between weapons and domestic violence,” Kiernan said. “The presence of a gun in a home makes a victim of domestic violence five times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner.”
Jessie DiMuzio, interim director of the Harmony Project, said from 2016 to 2018 reported intimate partner violence victimizations in the US increased by 42%.
The number of sexual assault victimizations increased by 146%.
DiMuzio gave examples of daily experiences that are part of a public health crisis of epidemic proportions impacting an estimated 10 million people in the US, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status or level of education.
“Right now, right here in Greenwich, someone’s heart is jumping out of their chest because they took too long to get home, because they know the verbal tirade and physical intimidation waiting for them once they walk in the door,” DiMuzio said.
“Right now there is a 12-year old trying to get through their homework, with their headphones on full blast as screaming explodes from the kitchen and dishes are being thrown,” she said. “Tonight a GHS student will respond to text after text from their girlfriend who threatens to out their newly discovered non-binary identity to their family if they don’t answer right away – who apologizes the next morning with Starbucks and a hug – excusing it away by saying they couldn’t stand not hearing from them every second of the day because they’re just so in love with them.”
Toward the end of the ceremony Meg Marciano, adult counselor, Harmoney Project, and Colleen Hines, clinical supervisor, Harmony Project, read the names of the 21 victims, followed by a moment of silence.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse or sexual violence, please call the Harmony Project 24/7 Hotline at 203-622-0003 for free and confidential services.