State Funds Lead To Improved Support For Domestic Abuse Victims

With the help of recent state funds, the Falmouth District Court will now house a full-time advocate for victims of domestic and sexual assault.
SAM HOUGHTON/ENTERPRISE - With the help of recent state funds, the Falmouth District Court will now house a full-time advocate for victims of domestic and sexual assault.

Domestic violence victim advocates and social workers have flagged Falmouth as an area of concern for domestic abuse but they are hopeful that a recent state grant will help.

At the end of last year, state legislators awarded the SafePlan program, administered by the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA), $150,000 to expand services to four districts across Massachusetts including the Falmouth District Court.

As a result, Falmouth District Court now has a full-time employee to assist victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

The Falmouth court had a full-time court official from 1996 until 2010 but funding was cut and the position was reduced to part time.

Christopher Klaskin, legislative affairs coordinator for MOVA, said that one of the main reasons for the recent state funds stemmed from “recent, high-profile, domestic violence cases,” in particular the Remy case. Jared Remy, the son of New England Sports Network (NESN) Red Sox color commentator Jerry Remy, fatally stabbed his girlfriend in Waltham last year.

“We’ve been fighting tooth and nail to get any expansion money,” Mr. Klaskin said. They have worked with state legislators and the issue has been mostly ignored until the Remy case, he said.

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As to why domestic violence received little funds until recently, he said that “domestic abuse is a misunderstood issue.”

Falmouth police respond to an average of one domestic incident every day. Since the beginning of the year, police received 131 calls for domestic disturbances, reported Lieutenant John (Sean) Doyle of the Falmouth Police Department.

In addition, there are incidents that are reported not as domestic disputes, but as threats or unwanted guests that are disputes stemming from a family dispute.

Officials at the Independence House assisted 252 clients seeking new restraining orders, or extending, modifying, and terminating old restraining orders in Fiscal Year 2013 at Falmouth court. Of those, 171 were new clients.

The Independence House is a nonprofit organization that serves all of Barnstable County to assist victims of domestic disputes

Falmouth has the second most victims seeking counsel for domestic abuse related incidents on the Cape, said Lysetta Hurge-Putnam, the Independence House’s executive director. Barnstable was the highest.

Ms. Hurge-Putnam said that Falmouth might have high numbers because of the location of Independence House’s office on Main Street as well as other local programs. “I find Falmouth to be very engaged in trying to be responsive to people in the town that need services,” she said. “You could make the argument that there is a high need, but also that folks are actually recognizing they can go and get help.”

She said that it could also be Falmouth’s large population.

“It means a lot,” Ms. Hurge-Putnam said about the recent funds for the court. “That one person that walked into the court” looking for help just after she closed the office might make the difference. With the expansion, she said, they are able to serve a greater number of survivors.

The court advocate can help a victim obtain a restraining order and other legal services or they might suggest counseling and further support from Independence House.

“We are not only there to assist with restraining orders, but there might be other legal documents to work out,” Ms. Hurge-Putnam said. “There’s a whole myriad of issues.”

Domestic abuse is often misunderstood because “people tend to say things like ‘if it were me, I would just walk away’,” she said. “It’s not that simple to just walk out with your children.”

A victim might believe that they could be in more danger if they do leave, she said. “Some victims really want their relationship to work, they just want the abuse to stop.”

One in four women are affected by domestic violence, Ms. Hurge-Putnam said. “It could be anyone. It could be someone you work with sitting next to you. It could be your child’s teacher and it could be your neighbor.”

“It is our goal at Independence House to strive to provide intervention and prevention services to as many Cape Codders as possible,” she said.

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