domestic violence victims hide in shadows at their peril
Those familiar with the patterns of domestic violence are sadly not surprised that another victim resided in a tony Westchester town.
Forget the stereotypes.
Even in the Westchester’s most well-to-do corners, family violence plagues our neighbors, sisters and friends.
“Domestic violence knows no socio-economic boundaries. It can happen in the wealthiest families and in the most financially stressed,” said Pound Ridge Police Chief David Ryan, who is an active member of the North East Westchester Domestic Abuse Alliance (New DAA).
A horrific case in point: Successful tax attorney Julius “Jules” Riech is charged with fatally stabbing his wife, respected Scarsdale pediatrician Robin Goldman, during a domestic dispute on Wednesday.
In the last five years, 38 domestic violence victims from Scarsdale have sought help from Pleasantville-based nonprofit, Hope’s Door, said Executive Director CarlLa Horton. “And that doesn’t include the many Jane Does who don’t tell us their names or where they live.”
The nonprofit helped 44 victims from Pound Ridge, 79 from Bedford, 165 from Port Chester, and 365 from Ossining, where Hope’s Door has an office. Perhaps paradoxically, some of the towns with higher numbers are those with communities with “very active police forces” in domestic violence, she said. “So much goes unreported.”
One in four women in the United States are victims of domestic violence, said Jennifer Ryan Safsel, Hope’s Door’s development director. “So there are going to be professionals. Socio-economically it doesn’t matter. Some people control their spouse by tracking their phones. Or people have been known to put tracking devices on cars.”
It’s ultimately about control. As White Plains-based nonprofit My Sister’s Place explains on its website, “Domestic violence is characterized by the misuse of power and control. It includes physical, emotional, psychological, verbal, sexual, and economic abuse.”
Police have said they received no prior calls about domestic violence in the Lincoln Road home.
This does not surprise Chief Ryan. “Statistically there are nine significant incidents before a call to the police,” Ryan said.
Why they don’t report
Domestic violence victims fear reporting their abusers for myriad reasons.
Poor or financially dependent women may not report because they are afraid they will not be able to financially support themselves or their children if they leave their partners, said Horton, who noted that domestic violence also occurs among same-sex couples, though far less frequently.
For more affluent women, admitting the abuse, already a distressing prospect, may be complicated by the fear of not being believed by peers, Dr. Susan Weitzman, founder of the Weitzman Center, an advocacy organization that raises awareness about “upscale abuse” said in the Daily Beast.
Many fear damage to their social image or career.
“People don’t want to air their dirty laundry, especially if they have status within their community or profession,” Ryan said. “There’s a real stigma attached to coming out of shadows.”
Horton agreed. “This is the thing you desperately, desperately try to hide from everyone else. So that a murder came out of the blue is seldom, seldom the case.”
Those who do turn in their abusers often feel shamed into hiding. “We have people who stop shopping in the community or going to church in the community once they report,” Ryan said. “We see it all the time.”
Ryan said accused abusers, some with power jobs and luxury homes, worry about their image too.
“Even the people we arrest — the first thing they ask us is, ‘Is this going in the paper?’ ”
Even after arrests, women may fear high-income husbands’ power in the courtroom where they can hire what Weitzman called “legal dream teams.”
Friends or family of victims may notice “a change in work habits. They may be quieter, withdrawn. They might not go out as a couple any more or the kids may not be as involved in athletic events anymore. Or if you see bruises, they may try to explain it off,” Ryan said.
For a woman or teenager in a newer relationship who might be wondering about her beau, Horton says. “The number one warning sign is isolation. Someone who keeps you away from everybody else who could matter to you.”
Beyond that, evidence of controlling behavior is an indicator of trouble. Does he try to dictate “what you can wear, whether you can work or not, who you can see?”
Risk factors for murder
According to one national study out of Johns Hopkins, the top risk factor for murder in domestic violence situations is that the abuser owns a gun.
The second is that you have recently left or have announced serious intention to leave him.
“Everyone blames the victim,” said Ryan Safsel from Hope’s Door. “People say, ‘Why didn’t she leave?’ Leaving is absolutely the most dangerous time. That’s when 75 percent of murders occur.”
In 2003, Croton resident Debora Riggs Clancy, a mother of four, was stabbed to death in front of two of her four children by her husband, Peter. She had recently filed for an order of protection against him.
Experts urge victims to call help hotlines for guidance on how to leave and survive an abusive relationship.
Who to call
Hotlines for help
Hope’s Door: 888-438-8700.
My Sister’s Place: 800-298-7233 (SAFE)
Westchester Community Opportunity Program
Local hotline: 914-345-9111 or call 1-855-827-2255