WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Reports of domestic violence increased 27 percent from 2008 to 2010 in White Plains, which reflects better reporting because of the White Plains Police Department’s recent community education efforts, Public Safety Commissioner David Chong said.
While domestic violence reports have gone up, injuries, deaths and recidivism related to domestic incidents have gone “way down” in White Plains, Chong said. That is due in part to Project Trust, which is part of a concerted effort to educate the White Plains community, especially foreign-born residents, on domestic abuse, he said.
“We wanted to develop trust with our immigrant community, and it appears that we have, and they call us before it gets out of hand,” said Assistant Police Chief Anne FitzSimmons.
The White Plains Police Department’s domestic violence unit and a trained social worker walk victims through the process from initial contact and report though court proceedings, Chong said. They also follow up with continuous monitoring.
“It is better reporting because our efforts have created a greater trust in us from the community,” he said.
Figures from the Westchester County Office for Women show that Mount Vernon had the highest number of reported cases per capita, followed by New Rochelle, White Plains, Peekskill and Buchanan.
White Plains had 1,235 domestic incident reports in 2010, the latest year for which information is available, up from 976 in 2008.
Officials said the statistics don't take into account the many rape cases that go unreported.
New York state changed the definition of domestic violence in 2008, expanding it to include more than just spouse-to-spouse incidents.
Nancy Levin, chief development officer at My Sisters' Place, an organization that counsels women and children who have been victims of domestic abuse, says many Westchester residents don't have a clear understanding that domestic violence is happening “right in our backyard.”
“It's not a trend, or a difference in incidence from year to year. It's a public-health issue,” she said.
About one in five women across the nation has been beaten, coerced into sex, or involved in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship in her lifetime, said Jennifer Ryan Safsel, director of development and community relations for Hope's Door, a domestic violence shelter in northern Westchester.
“It's a scary thing,” Safsel said. “A day doesn't go by without a news story on violence against women.” And Safsel added, many cases go unreported.
Westchester has had several high-profile domestic violence cases in recent years, including Theresa Gorski, a Sleepy Hollow mother of two, who died in January after her husband reportedly choked her to death. Gorski's husband, Christopher Howson, is facing murder charges.
And internationally, recent headlines have focused on South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, who faces charges that he killed his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.
Locally, organizations such as Hope's Door and My Sisters' Place provide counseling, outreach programs and emergency support to victims of domestic violence. Hope's Door provides a 24-hour, confidential emergency hotline at 888-438-8700. It also helps teenagers recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship – something that's especially important because a growing number of women are affected, Safsel said.
Levin notes that it's an issue across the board. “Whether you are living in a housing project or an affluent community, domestic violence reaches across gender, race and socioeconomic status,” Levin said.
“We are trying to change the way society thinks about intimate partner abuse and the culture that allows for it.”