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Domestic violence is a crime that police say is on the rise — right here in Greenwich



illustration by matt collins

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She drew the line at her husband physically assaulting her. In a relationship that spanned nearly two decades, including fifteen years of marriage, Barbara Hamilton (not her real name) had endured countless tirades and beratings from her husband. Something as inconsequential as the bed being left unmade was enough to spark an outburst.

But even as his verbal attacks grew in intensity, Barbara considered them the result of stress from work or simply avoided thinking about them altogether. Being that she was so busy with her own high-pressure job and the couple’s two children also served to push the incidents from her thoughts. The best she could do, she figured, was weather the storms, which were always followed by profuse apologies, and try to minimize whatever perceived problems ignited them.

“There was this one battle,” says Barbara, who lives in Greenwich. “It was a Saturday morning, and I don’t even know what the whole thing was about, but I was sitting on the bed and he
was screaming. And I thought to myself, ‘Please, just hit me, and I can leave.’ ”

But the physical attack came much later. By then, the kids were also under siege, enduring both verbal and physical abuse. Barbara, who was once optimistic, strong and outgoing, was gradually reduced to a weaker, hollow version of herself. “It can happen so slowly and over such a long period of time,” she says, “that you don’t realize what’s happening to you.”  Today, if Barbara blames herself for anything, it is that she allowed her husband to vent his rage on the children, often berating and striking them, for too long before she took action. “I didn’t stop it until it happened to me,” she says of the physical attacks, her voice cracking. “I should have stopped it sooner. Why didn’t I? Why didn’t I?”

Shocking Frequency

In truth, domestic abuse occurs more than many of us realize. It transcends socioeconomic backgrounds, education, race, sexuality, religion and age. It happens in backcountry mansions and housing-project apartments. The worst cases make headlines — Greenwich has had two domestic-violence related homicides in the past few years — but because of shame and fear many victims bear the physical and emotional pain in silence. The effects, however, reverberate even further: Domestic abuse tends to be passed down to children who witness it; consequently, they grow up to become abusers or victims themselves. Some 80 percent of domestic-abuse victims are women.

“People are always surprised that these horrible acts take place in their community, their backyard, in the apartment above them, or when they see a coworker coming into work who looks disheveled or has a bruise,” says Suzanne Adam, director of Domestic Abuse Services for the YWCA of Greenwich. “It’s a shock to realize that it’s so close to home.”

The YWCA received nearly 7,300 calls to its 24-hour domestic-violence hotline in 2007-2008, up 66 percent from the year before. Callers range from victims themselves, to friends of those experiencing domestic abuse, to doctors and social-service professionals seeking advice.  Everyone who answers the hotline must be certified in counseling battered women and update their training each year. Victims or those concerned about them are counseled as to how to stay safe and are provided with information about resources available through the YWCA and elsewhere, be it police, legal services, medical care or any number of agencies equipped to help.

The Greenwich police, meanwhile, average close to 220 domestic-violence related arrests each year, making it among the most frequently investigated crimes in town, second only to larceny. With the holidays and the recent economic crisis ratcheting up everyone’s stress levels, officials were expecting a record number of domestic–violence cases during the last fiscal year. “There are a lot of relationships that are crumbling or deteriorating because of the strife with the economy,” says Police Lieutenant Richard Cochran, who oversees and follows up on each of the police department’s domestic violence investigations. “A lot of pressures are being brought home.”

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