TORRINGTON – Lingle Police Chief Endra Andrews always tells the community her job is to keep up the perception of little to no crime happening in the area.
The reality, however, is the rural county of Goshen still experiences all types of crime especially domestic violence and sexual assault.
“I think we have a lot of misconceptions, a lot of terrible beliefs about domestic violence,” Andrews said.
One resource the county has along with law enforcement is Goshen County Taskforce on Family Violence and Sexual Assault.
Executive Director of the taskforce Michelle Powell said oftentimes domestic violence is perceived to only mean physical violence due to how it is portrayed on TV. Powell said most people expect to see bruising or other signs of physical violence when someone claims to be in an abusive relationship.
“Domestic violence is a pattern it takes many, many forms. It’s layers upon layers,” Powell said. “So it’s like starting with you know what I can’t live without you I don’t know how I am going to be able to move forward without you, you’re the best thing in my life hey you don’t need to hang out with your friends anymore like me and you are a thing… it’s all those little red flags and all those start to become on top of one another they layer up.”
Powell said the clues are hard to pick up on and younger people in a relationship may feel as though what the person is saying is true. From Chief Andrews’ perspective, some may not understand they are in an abusive relationship until it does get physical.
“When you start to see bruises there are so many layers of domestic violence that’s been happening and it’s just now it’s up to that,” Andrews said.
In situations where it does rise to physical abuse, Powell said it occurs when the abuser feels as though they are losing their control. Powell also said it is important to be educated on how domestic violence cases start and how often it occurs.
When it comes to law enforcement, evidence is needed to charge for a crime which can be difficult in some areas of domestic violence such as stalking and verbal threats.
Chief Andrews said law enforcement gets reports of a domestic violence well into the abuse and they don’t have the whole history when first coming onto the case.
“The interesting thing is that the [victims] are already excited so they know what’s going on and they’re coming to us and they look hysterical because I’m like seriously he walked by your house what is the big deal? Because they’re already hysterical and we’re back here trying to figure out what’s going on it doesn’t seem to be that important…”
Andrews said victims of domestic violence may know when they are being threatened when the abuser makes statements such as “I’ll never stop loving you” or “till death do us part” which may not seem threatening to those outside of the relationship.
“As officers we need to be able to listen and make it through the hysteria because they are already afraid, they are terrified. We need to be able to listen to that and try to articulate what they are saying what they are feeling in order to help them.”
Powell said in some cases officers are actually responding to a call from a neighbor or a child rather than the victim who may not want to report it. This stems from the victim thinking about all the things they may lose as a result such as the house or their partner’s income.
The taskforce is completely confidential according to Powell and do not require victims to report crimes to the police. It is important to the taskforce to build positive relationships between the police department and victims. In sexual assault cases, Powell said the victims are often treated as “perpetrators” because of questions like “what were you wearing” and “why would you go out drinking and go to a party with a college student?” Powell said the work of the taskforce is always victim driven. Developing safety plans with clients is one way they are able to help but Powell said they never tell the victim they need to leave.
“I always tell them I don’t walk in your shoes I’m not going to tell you how to live your life, but I’ll be here to support you,” Powell said.
Powell added there is an opportunity for some officers to learn and have a better understanding about domestic violence incidents.
“This is a hard topic,” Powell said. “And There is so much more.”
In comparison to other things police officers have to train for, Chief Andrews said learning about how to deal with domestic violence cases is very difficult.
“When we have to get out training in this isn’t something that a lot of people want to get their training in because it actually makes you check yourself and look at who you are,” Andrews said.
When victims are told to rehash their stories and relive the experience Andrews said they become revictimized as well as being accused of revising their stories. Along with this Andrews said judgements are often opposed on the victim which also retraumatizes them. It can even lead to victims questioning whether or not it actually happened to them.
Andrews said a common misconception is the commonality of false reporting for domestic violence cases because most cases are generally not reported by the victim and it is very unlikely to have someone come in and misreport such a crime. Reports of false rape cases is even more rare as Powell said no one wants to go through all of the trouble if it was fake including all of the societal stereotypes around it.
Other sexual assault cases differ from rape because of the trust between the two. The trust involved is the reason why many people do not report such cases according to Powell because they believe the blame will be put on them instead.
The taskforce’s work with sexual assault cases also extends to the prison through the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) as they help victims at WMCI who have reported sexual assault.
“They have a right to an outside advocate so they can call our hotline at any time and say, ‘I was sexually assaulted I want to go to the hospital’ so it’s not just our local community.”
While some feel as though prisoners should not receive help, Powell said prison is their punishment and they do not deserve to be assaulted as a result.
When Powell first talks to a client about being assaulted she shows them a “power and control wheel” which demonstrates how much of domestic violence is actually non-physical. These types of power and control methods include male privilege, coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming, using children and economic abuse.
Victims can often feel when a situation is escalating and may experience more pain through the emotional abuse as opposed to actually being hurt physically. Powell said some victims may prefer the physical violence in order to deescalate the issue or to get back to the “honeymoon phase.”
“Honestly what we see with verbal abuse if there is no physical is it’s just constant,” Powell said. “Because it is emotional abuse all day long.”
Since most of the non-physical methods of the power and control wheel are not chargeable offenses, Andrews said law enforcement has to wait until it escalates to physical abuse which happens much later.
On the taskforce side, they look to understand the victim’s situation because they are usually not the first ones who are told about the incidents. Powell said sometimes family and friends may get frustrated with helping and may not fully understand what is going on.
For those who have a family member or friend who is a victim of domestic violence, Powell said it is important to stick with them and be understanding as it can take up to seven times for victims to leave the abuser. Powell also said leaving is the most dangerous point of the relationship because the abuser has lost their power and control.
If clients choose to leave their situation the taskforce has resource to help along with a confidential safe house for those who may need it.
According to Powell, the number one goal of the taskforce is establishing a support system to help victims in a domestic violence situation.
“If your support system’s in Florida, how can we get you there if that’s what you choose,” Powell said.
While there are many obstacles for law enforcement when dealing with domestic violence cases, Andrews said the biggest is dealing with half-truths in instances where the victim may have also been doing something illegal. According to Andrews, it takes trust from the victim for her to be able to do her job properly. Andrews also said law enforcement’s need for just the facts and evidence can also provide issues.
For Powell, the biggest hurdle in sexual assault cases is helping victims understand it is not their fault. With domestic violence cases, Powell said the biggest challenge is figuring out next steps when choosing to leave due to the lack of low-income housing and other resources in the area.
“Our hurdles here are lack of resources when it comes to housing,” Powell said.
Powell said she has also seen people brought to Goshen County by their perpetrators because it is more isolated and can disconnect them from their family.
The taskforce relies heavily on donations to continue to help clients find the appropriate resources. Having the money allows to pay for bus trips and other ways out of the area when needed.
While one in four women will be a victim of a domestic violence, the statistic is almost as common for men as one in six will be a victim. Powell said the males she works with stay for a long time with their abuser because they are embarrassed to report it to the police station. Andrews also said in some cases with male victims they may say they were the abuser for their reactions rather than saying they were abused. Powell has seen cases where males did not want to report because they believed the police may side with their abuser instead.
For Powell, the most important step for the community is to be the solution by learning more about domestic violence and ways to help those in need. Powell said helping can be anything from volunteering at the taskforce to spreading awareness in the community.
“Learn about it and change it,” Powell said. “It is happening in Goshen County, but we need to come together as a community to better educate ourselves and to work together.”