Twenty-year-old Karen clearly remembers the moment she realized that her mother was lying to her about all the injury-related “accidents,” like falling down the stairs, falling into glass doors and slipping on the floor. Her mother, a woman with both mental illness and profound drug addiction, has habitually dated physically abusive men since before Karen was even born. “I didn’t necessarily believe her stories, but I didn’t think it was abuse because it was hard to believe that she couldn’t defend herself or that she would lie to protect the person who hurt her,” Karen, a resident of Kingston who asked that her real name not be used, recalled. “It made me really angry, and I would feel like, ‘The whole reason you are hurt like this, is because of him?’ I would get so angry.”
Family of Woodstock, which has a program to help victims and operates a shelter to provide a safe haven for victims and their families, defines domestic violence clearly — “[A] pattern of coercive behavior or tactics that is culturally learned and socially condoned. It can include physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse, and is perpetrated by one person against their intimate partner. Domestic violence can also be perpetrated by and/or against a member of the same family or household.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month nationally; this month’s local initiatives bring in a fresh breath of collaboration within the county government. County Executive Mike Hein’s office has assembled a domestic violence council made up of representatives from numerous agencies: Legal Aid; the Kingston Police Department; Child Protective Services; the District Attorney’s office; Family of Woodstock; the county Crime Victims Assistance Program; judges from both family and city court and an Ulster town justice; Ulster County Probation; and the county executive’s office. The panel planned this month’s events and mapped out strategies to increase awareness. Hein’s office will include information and resources with every county employee’s paychecks as well as distribute purple wristbands reading “STOP DOMESTIC VIOLENCE” on Oct 17 and encourage all employees to wear purple on that day. Clear Channel Communications will place two billboards featuring domestic violence awareness messages. Additionally, the County Office Building in Kingston has been lit purple since Oct. 1, as well as the top of 1 Pearl Street, the site of the Crime Victims Assistance Program office.
Two other initiatives on tap for this month include the “Clothesline Project” art exhibit, in which artwork depicting their stories from domestic violence survivors will be on exhibit at the County Office Building. On Oct. 28, The Reach Out Film Showcase will screen Tribeca Film Festival winner Whisper Me a Lullabye at 721 Broadway to benefit the Washbourne House, Family of Woodstock’s domestic violence shelter. Films will run all day between 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. with a meet-and-greet.
Kathy Welby-Moretti, program director at Family of Woodstock and the Washbourne House, which shelters up to 17 violence-endangered adults and children at any given time, said her facility has been filled to capacity for practically this whole year. “We can give them a safe place to stay, but I cannot magically get an apartment for someone,” she said.
According to District Attorney Holley Carnright’s office, there were 3,329 domestic incident reports, resulting in 598 arrests in the year 2011. By July 27 of this year, the office reported 1,716 reported domestic violence incidences, with 348 arrests. National statistics put out by the Centers for Disease Control state that one in every four women endures domestic violence in her life.
For those who have never lived through it, “why stay?” seems like a rational and obvious question. Welby-Moretti encourages those who might ask that to look more deeply into the highly complex circumstances of victim’s life. “It’s hard enough to leave everything behind,” explained Welby-Moretti. “I tell people to stand in your home, and look around … and look at what’s important to them: Your aunt’s jewelry, whatever. Your furnishings. So close your eyes, and imagine never seeing it again. You have to leave it all behind. You can’t take it with you.” Everything stays, she emphasized, only you go. “There’s a lot of reasons women stay.” Since the Washbourne house is at capacity, then women and children in need are sent to the next county, and if that’s full, the next, and the next. In the event she has a job, she likely will not be making it to work. If he is granted visitation with their kids, she may not legally move out of the county. If he owns the car, she could be stuck.