Tricia Farley-Bouvier: Berkshires' domestic violence crisis

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PITTSFIELD — Facts are stubborn things. Here are some incredibly disturbing facts regarding the crisis of domestic violence in what we like to think of as the idyllic Berkshires:

Domestic and sexual violence is directly responsible for the deaths of six Berkshire County women between 2015-2018. This is in addition to the horrifying and heartbreaking case of the quadruple homicide-suicide in Sheffield last month. According to the Elizabeth Freeman Center, the number of restraining order filings in the county has increased in the last four years. There were 1,107 filings in 2018, a five percent increase over 2017, and 15 percent above 2015, which is 36 percent higher than the state average. Let that sink in. Restraining orders only give us part of the story as most victims do not report and 1,100 of our neighbors, our friends, our family members have taken the brave step of asking for help. And 10 innocent people have actually lost their lives to this scourge. It is high time for action.

IMMEDIATE TRACKING

Thoughtful, bold, research-driven action is what District Attorney Andrea Harrington is taking. The Berkshire County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force is bringing together community leaders and resources to confront the growing crisis. The Task Force will identify and secure needed resources to preempt domestic and sexual violence and work with elected officials, law enforcement and medical providers to draft legislation to prosecute abusers and to protect and support victims. It will involve large-scale educational and training components.

Cases will be tracked when complaints are filed rather than when charges are filed. Training in recognizing human trafficking will be provided to police and first responders. Plans will be formulated to develop Domestic Violence Fatality Reviews with the goals of preventing domestic homicides in the future and a High Risk Team will be staffed with prosecutors and victim assistance advocates from the district attorney's office that are specifically trained to recognize victims of domestic violence and handle their legal cases. In addition, an internal DA office team will investigate unindicted cases of sexual assaults from the past 15 years. I am confident there will be lessons learned from patterns in those cases that can be applied to future ones, and perhaps with further probing and a more aggressive approach, some victims will have an opportunity to see justice. I stand ready to do everything possible to support these critically important goals.

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The destruction done by domestic and sexual violence not only results in the long-lasting harm and sometimes death of innocent victims, but has a destructive impact on their children, loved ones and friends. Like a pebble tossed into a still body of water, the destruction, radiates outward and sends ripples of pain and hardship in every direction. Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior one person uses in a relationship to control, humiliate and hurt another person emotionally, sexually, financially and physically. Studies increasingly show that domestic violence is a primary cause of homelessness and poverty. While domestic violence exists at all economic levels, most victims who leave abusive relationships suffer an immediate drop of income and loss of housing, employment, schooling, family support and child care according.

DON'T SUFFER IN SILENCE

And let me take a moment away from big policies and planning to ask: Are you being hurt? Do you know someone who is? I urge you not to suffer in silence if you are struggling with domestic and sexual violence. You can contact the Berkshire DA's Victim Assistance Advocates at (413) 443-5951. The Elizabeth Freeman Center has offices in Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington as well as a 24-hour toll-free hotline at (866)401-2425. Help is available. Please don't wait.

With so many critical needs to address, I can think of none more important that the debilitating and destructive scourge of domestic violence. We must stand together to create a safer world in which all women, men and children can feel secure in their own homes. Let this April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, be the time that our effort to reduce violence in our county gains traction and commitment.

We cannot afford to ignore upsetting and stubborn facts, but working together, we can change them.

A Pittsfield Democrat, Tricia Farley-Bouvier is state representative from the 3rd Berkshire District.


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