A group dedicated to stopping domestic abuse in Lewisboro and neighboring towns is determined to spread the message: Help, and hope, are close by — very close by.
“I’m a founding charter member,” said the Rev. Dr. Chip Andrus of the South Salem Presbyterian Church. He, along with Lewisboro Police Chief Frank Secret and Town Supervisor Peter Parsons, are featured in a program currently running on Lewisboro Community TV Channel 20, “Focus on Domestic Violence in Lewisboro and Surrounding Communities.”
“The point of the video is to get victims — mainly women — to realize that help is available,” said Mr. Parsons, “and that it’s from trained people. They can get you counseling and help from qualified, understanding people.”
“They” is North East Westchester Domestic Abuse Alliance, or NEW-DAA, a consortium of “domestic violence survivors/victims, law enforcement, clergy and domestic violence service providers coming together to create an integrated response to domestic violence,” according to its mission statement.
An idea takes shape
“It actually started in my study here at South Salem Presbyterian Church, about three years ago,” said Mr. Andrus. “It started with a victim, who is now a survivor, who came to me for pastoral care. Part of the healing process was to help create this group. We got in touch with Victim’s Assistance Services (VAA), and it was a three-way process with me, the survivor and VAA.” Mr. Andrus said there was no paradigm to follow — “It all kind of grew organically.”
Chief Secret was one of the first to get involved. Abuse survivors told him about one of the problems with the way in which domestic abuse calls were traditionally handled.
“Who shows up but two male authority figures,” Chief Secret said, “and that made the caller very uncomfortable. Luckily, we do have a female officer in Lewisboro.”
Quickly joining Mr. Andrus, Chief Secret and VAA in the effort were Hope’s Door, My Sister’s Place, and the police chief from Pound Ridge, David Ryan.
“The clergy started to invite other clergy to be involved,” said Mr. Andrus. “Rabbi Carla Freedman and myself were first, and it just kept expanding into a larger group.” Participants now include Antioch Baptist Church, Katonah United Methodist Church, St. James Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church of Katonah, Pound Ridge Community Church, and St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.
A two-pronged approach
Mr. Andrus explained that there are two parts to the NEW-DAA effort: first, to bring awareness about domestic abuse to the whole community, especially those who may be victims; and second, to provide a consortium of police, clergy, and victims services so there is a variety of avenues to which victims can turn.
“For the first time, we have a cohesive approach of all three groups,” said Mr. Andrus. “You can get help in multiple ways. We know each other — we meet every single month, we train each other for awareness.”
No matter which entity victims enter through, he said, they can get all the elements working for them.
As a member of the clergy, Mr. Andrus said, he recognizes that churches have not always been the safest place for victims of abuse. “Unfortunately,” he said, “there was bad doctrine, bad theology. Now that we’ve trained the clergy in the area, we hope this is more the norm now. If someone comes to us for help, we’re not going to tell them the old school idea of ‘go home and be a good wife’ — which was often the case in the past.”
Seeking help is key
Both Mr. Andrus and Chief Secret emphasized that the problem of domestic abuse is far greater than most people acknowledge, and that it is not limited to any socio-economic group.
“It’s out there in ways that people don’t recognize,” said Mr. Andrus. “It is an epidemic, a hidden evil; it could be next door and you won’t know it. It’s insidious in that way. Victims don’t want to report it.”
Chief Secret said the national average is for seven incidents of abuse to occur before the victim comes forward.
“Our goal is, after the first incident, victims should be able to come here and find out their rights,” he said. “Survivors will tell you, they wish they had come in right away. You can talk to a rabbi or priest; you can talk to someone who’s been through it; you can get help from county assistance services.”
“There’s probably more awareness of the problem now because of all the publicity in the sports world,” said Chief Secret.
He and all those involved with NEW-DAA want to be sure that everyone in the community knows that not only is the problem all around us, but so are people who can help — if victims will just ask.
“It’s not going to go away on its own,” he said.
Points of Contact:
For help or more information, contact the Lewisboro Police Department at (914) 763-8903 or Reverend Chip Andrus at the South Salem Presbyterian Church(914) 763-9282, located at 111 Spring Street.