AP NEWS

Stamford Crisis Center stands up, and by, for victims of domestic violence

December 17, 2018

STAMFORD — The knocking outside Diane Dauplaise’s office hardly ceases on Monday mornings.

Dauplaise works as an advocate for domestic violence victims, and the beginning of the workweek brings in a new batch of cases from arrests made over the weekend.

A staff attorney for the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, she said the number of family violence arraignments on Monday is generally between eight and 12, and a large percentage of those are classified as domestic partner abuse.

In total, there have been 684 domestic arraignments this year in state Superior Court in Stamford, according to Dauplaise.

“We’re very busy,” she said.

A third of all Connecticut criminal cases involve family violence, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. And many times, such cases are fatal. In Connecticut, roughly 14 people are killed a year, on average, because of domestic abuse. In Stamford, two women — 74-year-old Eden Claxton and 24-year-old Dionicia Bautista-Cano — were killed by their spouse in the last three years.

Recently, a Stamford woman who was married to a man with a history of domestic violence charges against him, died at Stamford Hospital after suffering massive injuries.

Olga Iris Lopez, 36, had 30 to 40 bruises on her body and was diagnosed with a “massive” brain bleed caused by a traumatic injury to the side of her head in late November. However, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has not yet been able to determine whether her death was a homicide.

According to court documents, her husband, Hector Lopez, had a record of domestic violence convictions from 2000 to 2016 for charges including assault, breach of peace, criminal mischief, violation of judges’ protective orders, violation of probation, stalking, threatening, creating a public disturbance and interfering with police.

He served multiple sentences in prison, one for as long as a year, and in some cases received suspended sentences, according to his court record.

Kevin Shippy, executive director of DVCC, which oversees Stamford, as well as surrounding communities Norwalk, Westport, New Canaan, Darien, Wilton and Weston, said he’d like to see stricter punishments for domestic abusers, to protect the victims from future assaults.

“If there were more severe consequences for an initial offense, rather than a warning or a diversionary program like anger management, something that has more teeth or consequences,” he said.

Dauplaise said there are a number of ways the state is trying to combat domestic abuse, and one of those is the lethality assessment protocol, or LAP, a screening tool that police officers use at the scene of a domestic abuse call to assess the level of threat facing a spouse or partner.

The practice, which started in 2012 in Connecticut, employs a point system based on the answers to questions from officers. If the point total is high enough, the victim is deemed to be in “high danger,” which warrants an immediate call to a hotline worker.

“It’s really revolutionary because we’re saying that at the scene of a domestic, we’re having a law enforcement officer get a victim in touch with an advocate right on the scene,” Dauplaise said.

Stamford Police Sgt. Joseph Kennedy, who co-supervises domestic violence cases in the department, said LAP is a good program that makes the practice of protecting victims more consistent across the unit.

“It’s good in the sense that you’re connecting receptive victims to a program where they’re trying to get them help,” he said.

The challenge is what to do with victims who aren’t receptive, he said, which can be the case for a number of reasons, such as financial dependence on a partner, fear or emotional attachment.

“It’s tough to make that breakthrough,” Kennedy said.

In almost 90 percent of domestic abuse cases in Connecticut, the victim is a woman, and Shippy said it may take a woman multiple attempts to truly emancipate herself from an abuser.

In Stamford, the LAP assessment was used about 25 times a month, on average, between July and October. About 11 cases a month were deemed “high danger.”

The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that in three-fourths of the cases deemed “high danger,” the victim spoke with a counselor. And in the vast majority of those cases, the victim followed up with the counselor for help with services.

“I really think everybody involved in the situation is working really hard, and between police, prosecutors, advocates, judges, you really have an educated team that’s really working to try and prevent these things,” Dauplaise said.

Dauplaise’s workload is expected to increase now as the holidays tend to bring a spike in domestic abuse. She said the holiday season can add stress to a relationship, sometimes for financial reasons or family issues.

“If you’re already in a volatile relationship, that kind of pressure can unfortunately lead to a domestic incident,” she said.

She encouraged anyone going through an abusive relationship to contact the center’s hotline, 1-888-774-2900, which is available 24 hours a day in both English and Spanish. The DVCC, located at 777 Summer St., is open to victims of abuse and offers a number of services to get them back on their feet, including shelter.

“Even if it’s just that one call, if that’s the only step you make, that could be a game changer,” Dauplaise said.

AP RADIO
Update hourly