(WGGB/WSHM) – Local officials report that domestic violence is widespread and on the rise in Western Massachusetts. The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department is now helping raise funds for the overwhelming number of victims who have come forward amid the pandemic.
“We’ve had women coming in with a broken arm, women coming in with black eyes, women coming in with blood all over the place saying, ‘You gotta help me,'” said Liz Dineen, CEO of the YWCA of Western Massachusetts.
The pandemic has been a dark time for victims of domestic violence, who have found themselves stuck in their homes with their abusers. Dineen said those seeking safety at the YWCA of Western Massachusetts increased by 33%.
More than 1,630 survivors have sought services statewide, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
“He said I would be his or no one else’s,” said a Springfield woman, who wanted her identity concealed.
This woman started dating a man. It all seemed too good to be true and it was.
“It’s a movie, like, I could make a movie with how obsessed this man is with me and I had red flags and I didn’t pay attention to it,” she explained.
She said her boyfriend first hit her in November, but his over-the-top apology convinced her he would change.
“That’s when you start thinking, ‘Well, he’s really sorry,’ and then he treated me like a queen, ‘What can I do for you?’ “You don’t have to do anything,” she added.
The abuse continued verbally with insults and accusations of cheating until one day, while driving with him in the car, she finally broke up with him.
“…And then he started hitting me while I was driving and I was trying to brake because I didn’t want to hit somebody and kill somebody with my car, and I was just thinking about that and I’m telling him to stop, stop, stop,” she explained.
This woman survived what Dineen called the most dangerous moment in an abusive relationship.
“When a woman finally says enough is enough the abuser knows he has lost control and when he has lost control he is the most dangerous because he will do whatever it takes to gain control , including killing that person,” Dineen said.
Last year, there were 15 domestic violence-related homicides in Massachusetts, according to Jane Doe Inc. Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi said the arrest-release cycle can be dangerous.
“When the person goes to court, the family member is pressured by the person who assaulted them, and a lot of times they won’t press charges,” Cocchi said.
He said domestic violence arrests had increased by 22% and in one week recently, 14 people accused of domestic violence had been arrested and later released by the courts.
“When you arrest someone and let them out within 24 hours, they grow bolder, they feel empowered, and they go home. They beat up the person who put them in jail,” Dineen noted.
The couple are advocating for the dangerousness bill, which failed to pass this legislative session. This would provide courts with more options to hold defendants accused of abuse in custody.
“We don’t just want to take a break. We then want to reduce the amount of domestic violence that occurs. We want to be able to get people into treatment, so they can manage their issues,” Cocchi said.
Anger management, addiction and mental health counseling to get to the root of the problem. Support is also needed for the whole family, especially children.
“So that they can learn about healthy relationships, they can learn to express their frustration and their anger, instead of being in a situation where they’re repeating what they saw at home,” Dineen added.
Hundreds of children are on a waiting list for a YWCA program for those who witness violence. As more women feel empowered to come forward, more funding is needed to hire a fifth social worker and to provide housing for the hundreds of women they serve who sometimes need to be rehoused as abusers may be relentless.
“We had abusers who came to the YWCA posing as a priest, posing as a lawyer, posing as a doctor,” Dineen explained.
The survivor we spoke to said she had turned down a place at the shelter because she was caring for her disabled adult son. Instead, she lives in fear of her abuser.
“I sleep on this sofa and look at the windows at night. I don’t want him to come here,” she said.
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