When Lisa Regina and her fiancé began dating, it was like a “fairy tale,” she said. But as the wedding approached, he became more controlling. Two months before the big day, as they were sitting in his truck in Manhattan, he punched her in the back of the head, slammed her face into the vehicle’s gear shift and pulled her out of the car, throwing her onto the pavement.
“My life just came to a halt and took a different path,” she said. “It went from a joyous occasion to a traumatic assault. Fortunately, I survived.”
Regina will be the featured speaker at the annual luncheon and fundraiser held by , a Pleasantville-based domestic violence services center, on October 6 at in Chappaqua. The appearance is being made in conjunction with Shine the Light on Domestic Violence, a series of Westchester-based programs held during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
After the incident, Regina, a New Jersey native and actress who founded A Write to Heal, became an advocate for woman trapped in abusive relationships. During October, Regina and advocates like her encourage people to wear purple, or to tie purple ribbons around trees to help show support, said Amy Barasch, executive director of the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence in Albany.
Purple is the color of valor and bravery and the goal is to raise awareness year round. Domestic violence statistics can be misleading, since half of the incidents are never reported to the police, she said, but one encouraging sign is that intimate partner homicides declined 19 percent in 2010 from 2009.
In Westchester, however, reported assaults, sex offenses and violations of protective orders rose to 2,632 incidents in 2010 from 2,490 in 2009, according to state Division of Criminal Justice Services statistics.
“There’s less stigma to reaching out for help, but victims are still embarrassed,” said Barasch. “They have to leave their home to become safe and that’s hard if there’s kids involved.”
In addition to Hope’s Door in Pleasantville, My Sister’s Place runs emergency shelters in Yonkers and White Plains. In addition, the Pace University Women’s Justice Center offers assistance, as does the county District Attorney’s office, which opened the Family Justice Center in 2010 to offer a range of services in addition to legal support for victims of domestic violence, which includes child abuse and elder abuse along with intimate partner abuse, said D.A. spokeswoman Tracy Everson. The D.A.’s office prosecuted over 2,700 cases of domestic violence in 2010.
During October, Hope’s Door is holding several events to help raise awareness of domestic violence, including a seminar for lawyers and a symposium exploring faith-based perspectives. They also run an ongoing series of workshops to help doctors and social recognize the sings of domestic abuse and run an extensive network of referral services.
“I grew up in a violent home; my father was extremely abusive,” said CarlLa Horton, executive director at Hope’s Door. “Thirty years ago there were no shelters or hotlines and the typical intervention would consist of the police officer walking the guy around the block to calm him down.”
She points to the passage of the federal Violence Against Women Act in 1994 and the adoption by many states of mandatory arrest policies in cases of domestic violence as signs of change.
“It’s like the cultural norms against smoking,” said Horton. “We’re seeing a tectonic shift in domestic violence, which used to be viewed as a family matter to be dealt with behind closed doors. Now, there are more resources for people than ever before and more people know their options, even though it’s still a big problem.”
The most dangerous time in a relationship occurs when women seek orders of protection, she said. Three out of every four domestic violence murders occur after the woman has left or announces her intention to do so.
“Our chief piece of advice is don’t leave on your own,” said Horton. “Call us; we’ll conduct a danger assessment and a safety plan.” One client she counseled was so shocked by her high assessment score that she fled to another state.
Domestic violence professionals see hope for the future and are turning their attention to young people, educating them that domestic violence consists not just of physical beatings, but also controlling and coercive behavior.
“We held a teen event in a local high school and set up a table in the cafeteria and about 80 kids signed up to be in our peer leadership program,” she said. “You can learn to read when you’re 35, but isn’t it better to do so at age seven? We’re trying to get kids to learn to spot the signs and stop the cycle of abusive relationships. This will have the most impact on our culture and our society.”
A press conference launching Westchester's programs during Domestic Violence month will be held Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m. in the County Office Building, 8th floor rotunda, in White Plains.
Women seeking help with abusive relationships are encouraged to call the Hope’s Door hotline at 888-438-8700 or My Sister’s Place at 800-298-7233 (SAFE) at any time 24/7.