Desk of the DA: Domestic violence awareness

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore is focusing on domestic violence in her monthly message. In light of the recent Friedlander family murder-suicide in Cross River, it’s a message that is more than appropriate.

Every October, along with the leaves changing color, the color purple appears on ribbons and pins on lapels and signs posted in our neighborhoods as a way to promote Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As chief law enforcement officer and District Attorney of Westchester County, I would like to share with you the work that my office is doing to keep victims of domestic violence and their children safe, to hold offenders accountable for the crimes they commit, and to engage in public education strategies to prevent domestic violence.

Domestic violence occurs when an intimate partner exerts undue power and control over his (or less often, her) partner, using methods of control that can range from physical violence to emotional, verbal, sexual and even financial abuse. Nationally, nearly one in four women reports experiencing violence inflicted by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in time. In New York State, almost half the women murdered are killed by an intimate partner. It is likely that someone you know has been or will be a victim of domestic violence. And for victims of domestic violence, choosing to leave an abusive partner can be difficult because of fear, and because of the emotional and financial ties that bind families together.

In the District Attorney’s Office, we prosecute all offenders who have committed acts of domestic abuse that violate our criminal laws. Our specially trained prosecutors seek to hold offenders accountable while finding outcomes that will be safest for victims and their children. Assisting our prosecutors is our team of domestic violence aides who assist victims in navigating the legal system, creating safety plans and linking victims to service resources. In 2010, my office handled over 2,700 cases of domestic violence in Westchester County. We anticipate that this year our case load will reach 3,000.

In order to provide support to victims of domestic violence on site near the District Attorney’s Office and the Courthouse in White Plains, in May 2010, Westchester County’s Family Justice Center opened its doors. This centralized, one-stop resource is located adjacent to the District Attorney’s Office and provides safety planning, legal assistance, counseling and other services for domestic violence victims and their children in one secure location. The Center is a collaboration between the District Attorney’s Office and the County’s Office for Women, and is supported by a federal grant. In 2010, the Center served and assisted 600 victims of domestic violence.

This month, my office is joining with our domestic violence partner agencies in a county-wide campaign to “Shine the Light on Domestic Violence.” The Special Prosecutions Division of my office will be distributing information as well as purple lapel ribbons which are symbolic of domestic violence awareness during the month of October. We will also be participating in important public education initiatives. On October 15, 2011, my office will be once again taking part in a seminar presented by the African American Men of Westchester, “Stop the Violence, Men Speaking to Men to Stop Violence against Women.” The goal of this event is to reach out to young men to promote positive, respectful relationships between intimate partners. On October 19, 2011, my office will participate in the annual Domestic Violence Police Training, and I will address police officers from around the county on the importance of their work on domestic violence. The conference will provide these law enforcement officers updates in the law and safety strategies when responding to a domestic violence call. These educational efforts are an integral part of my commitment to addressing domestic violence in Westchester County.

If you need immediate assistance, always call 911. For the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, please call 1-800-942-6906 (English) or 1-800-942-6908 (Spanish). For more information, please visit our website at www.westchesterda.net or the Family Justice Center website at http://women.westchestergov.com/about-us/family-justice-center.