Domestic violence is a year-round issue
YATES, SCHUYLER COUNTY--With the growing public awareness of domestic violence across the nation, more people have come forward in recent years to report crimes than in years past. In fact, Yates County has experienced a 95 percent increase in domestic violence police calls comparing 2013 and 2012 against 2011 and 2010.
The numbers of domestic violence police calls by year include:
• 2013: 273 calls.
• 2012: 277 calls.
• 2011: 125 calls.
• 2010: 157 calls.
This year, Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike said the number of domestic violence calls is already at 163. Spike said in 2013, domestic violence calls ranked second in criminal reports received by his office behind harassment calls.
Spike said a domestic violence call requires a two officer response for officer safety, crime prevention or resisting arrest. He said 90 percent of victims are female compared to 10 percent male. Twenty percent of the victims are minors, as often children are witnessing or a part of the incident. Spike said the department charges an endangering the welfare of a child misdemeanor when the physical or mental welfare of a child is affected.
Domestic Violence is certainly prevalent here in Yates County," said Marisa Rube, assistant director of Safe Harbor of the Finger Lakes. "[...] It is said that one in four women will be a victim of [domestic violence] in her lifetime. In the field we believe this number to be much higher, as so many victims don't report their abuse."
Rube said Yates County is "probably right up there with the state and national averages for domestic violence," adding Yates tends to see a lot of intergenerational abuse. Despite the sheriff's department receiving only 273 calls related to domestic violence in 2013, Rube said Safe Harbor served 389 victims in 2013.
"Our numbers continue to rise each year, although this isn't necessarily because more people are being abused, but could also be because more victims are coming forward for help," Rube said.
Rube said the first thing they do at Safe Harbor is to talk with the victim to assess immediate safety. From there, she said each case is different, accompanying some victims to family court to file for an order of protection against their abuser.
"We provide advocacy and support related to all family court issues," Rube said. "We may accompany a victim to the hospital if there are injuries that need to be attended to. We may accompany them to the police to report abuse, if they choose to report. We may help the victim to find shelter. There is no safe shelter here in Yates County, but we have relationships with shelters outside of our county for this reason. We provide accompaniment to and advocacy with [the Department of Social Services] (DSS) for temporary assistance."
Rube said sometimes it is unsafe for a victim to report the abuse, adding the group respects each person's right to choose, while also providing counseling. Rube said the hotline number for Yates County is 315-536-2897, adding this is a 24-hour crisis hotline. She said the services offered are free and confidential.
According to Schuyler County District Attorney Joe Fazzary, his office handles around 100 domestic violence cases per year. He said most of them end up with a conviction.
"We treat these cases very seriously," Fazzary said. "In fact, we have successfully prosecuted several batterers (male defendants) without the cooperation of the victims. My chief ADA has gone to trial and got a couple of convictions without ever putting the victim on the stand."
Fazzary said he has had only a few cases over the years where there was a male who was the victim in a domestic violence case. He said in most cases, he seeks jail, protective orders and CHANGE program as a sentence for abusers. Fazzary said the CHANGE program is a project in which defendants are ordered to get treatment through professionals with the idea that it will curb their abusive ways. He said the program lasts between 26 and 52 weeks and the defendant has to pay for it.
"Domestic violence is a serious problem throughout the country," Fazzary said. "It is too bad that it has taken professional athlete cases to bring it to the forefront. I will simply never understand how or why a man can put his hands on a woman in a harmful way. I am hopeful that the state of New York and the federal government will continue to strengthen the domestic violence laws to protect women."
Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman said his department's response to domestic incidents "seem to be constant in numbers." He said domestic incidents occur daily and at all hours of the day and night.
"There is no fix all for this issue," Yessman said. "Deputy sheriffs are highly trained to deal with domestic incidents that can range from verbal arguments to physical abuse and the changing laws that pertain to domestic abuse."
While the issue of violence in the community is ongoing, there are groups located within the county who work with those who are victims of domestic violence.
"Domestic violence is as prevalent in Schuyler County as in all communities," said Bethany Worrey, supervisor of victim services with Catholic Charities of Schuyler County. "Domestic violence does not pertain to a certain population. This is a global epidemic, which has been mostly socially and legally unrecognized on a national level until 1994. This was the year that the court case involving Nicole Brown Simpson's death brought the victimization of women to light, which ignited the federal Violence Against Women Act and the New York State Family Protection and Domestic Violence Intervention Act. Most recently, in 2013 protection was expanded federally for immigrant survivors, protection was created for the LGBT community, and adjustments were made to the tribal laws to protect First Nation victim's on and off their sovereign lands."
Worrey said on average, First Step Victim Services opens 90 new cases a year for the past five years, adding they have served 11 male clients and 13 minors in the past five years. She said the group also reopens many of their old cases each year. Worrey compared statistics on all levels in regards to emergency hotline calls in 2013, saying First Step Victim Services received 160 calls, New York State received 194,800 calls and the National Domestic Violence Hotline received 265,000 calls.
"I believe it will take a social shift to reduce domestic violence incidents," Worrey said. "Locally, we can take action by enhancing our awareness of the dynamics of family violence and domestic abuse, in which our program, First Step Victim Services, is available to provide [residents] with free of charge."
Worrey said First Step Victim Services Program provides advocacy and referral services to all victims of crime, with a focus on victims of domestic violence. She said services include relocation services, safety planning, transportation, court accompaniment, criminal advocacy, Office of Victim Services claims, home visits, information and referral services, peer support groups, youth outreach services, domestic violence education, assistance with orders of protection and a 24-hour emergency hotline. Worrey said First Step provides the county with advocates who stand beside victims and advocate for them throughout Schuyler County to ensure their family receives all the services needed to be successful in their time of need.
"First and foremost, we live in a victim blaming society," Worrey said. "Victims are often not aware that they are in an abusive relationship until a life altering event occurs. Even then, it takes a victim of domestic abuse seven times on average to fully leave the relationship. [...] It is challenging for our community to comprehend the shame and embarrassment that victims of domestic violence face. In addition, it can be unclear to society of what an abuser looks like. They are very charming, convincing and naturally manipulative to the naked eye. However, they are very controlling, power hungry, and psychologically calculating behind closed doors. Therefore, it is very easy for an outsider to misconstrue a domestic abuse relationship."
First Step Victim Services is located 607 North Franklin St. in Watkins Glen and can be reached on weekdays between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 607-535-2050 and non-business hours on the emergency hotline at 607-742-9629.