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How to Recognize Domestic Violence Warning Signs

In light of the Simsbury murder-suicide in September, Avon, Farmington Valley and West Hartford police share resources available to victims.

It would have been hard to predict the murder-suicide that happened in Simsbury two weeks ago.

While the relationship between Canton natives Beth Day, 24, and Michael Wawrzyniak, 25, was tense, Day's family and Simsbury police said there was never any violence before the night that Wawrzyniak shot her in their Simsbury Meadows apartment and then turned the gun on himself.

However, in general, there are domestic violence warning signs and many resources for victims, according to police.

How the Police Can Help

The last Simsbury fatal shooting happened in April 2001 after Jeffrey Bourke unintentionally shot his roommate, Doug Underwood, according to police. Bourke was convicted of manslaughter, according to The Hartford Courant, but Boulter said the case wasn't considered domestic violence because there wasn't any arguing leading up to it.

Murders and shootings are rare in Simsbury, but the department responded to 146 domestic-related incidents in 2011 alone, according to Simsbury Police Capt. Nick Boulter. About 89 of those were considered non-violent. Domestic violence can happen anywhere, regardless of location or demographics, according to Boulter.

"It has no biases or prejudices," he said.

Sometimes people are hesitant to call the police because they are worried they'll get in trouble if it turns out nothing is wrong, Boulter said. But the Simsbury police are well trained to handle domestic violence calls and are are also available as an informational resource if people simply are looking for guidance or a referral, he said. People should call the police if they hear or see a domestic violence situation unfolding, he said.

"One of the most important things is that people feel comfortable to call the police department," Boulter said.

Avon has not had any murders in recent history that have stemmed from domestic violence, according to Avon Police Lt. Kelly Walsh. The last murders in town occurred in 2003 and 1980. 

But over the past year, Avon has responded to 56 domestic-related disturbances, not all involving spouses fighting or violent situations, Walsh said.

Farmington Police Lt. Marshall Porter wrote to Patch in an email that anyone who witnesses domestic violence should call the police right away.

"Media reports indicate a neighbor heard the domestic violence incident in the Simsbury case, but failed to call 911, and instead turned up the TV to tune out the noise," Porter said. "This is not uncommon and there are a variety of reasons victims and witnesses are reluctant to call the police."

Granby Police Chief Carl Rosenswieg said police are an additional "resource for information and advice" about domestic violence. Canton Police Chief Chris Arciero added that police are trained to "handle the issues," answer questions, refer victims to available resources and provide them and their families with protection.

Whenever someone calls the Avon police about a domestic disturbance, dispatchers keep the caller on the line until police arrive so they can stay informed, keep officers updated and help de-escalate the situation.

"We go to a lot of verbal domestics," Walsh said, sometimes the result of a neighbor calling.

Dispatchers always call back when a call is disconnected, she said.

West Hartford Police Detective Sgt. Chris Chappell said people can call the routine police number if there's time. If not, he said they can call 911.

“We treat it extremely seriously," Chappell said, adding that West Hartford police respond to all domestic disturbance calls.

Warning Signs of Domestic Violence

No one thing triggers domestic violence, Chappell said.

“Domestic violence is usual not anger related as much as it is possession related," he said. "The problem with domestic violence is that you usually love the person, so you end up defending their actions or behavior."

Domestic violence isn't always physical, Chappell said. It can also be verbal.

He noted the following warning signs and possible triggers:

  • Dramatic changes in the other person.
  • Noticeable anger outbursts.
  • The person is having trouble at work.
  • The person is drinking more.
  • The person has a "short fuse" and it doesn't take long for them to have anger outbursts.
  • You notice that the person's anger toward you becomes "more animated." 
  • Possessiveness.

According to Interval House's website, you might be a victim of domestic violence if any of the following scenarios have happened to you:

  • The person is constantly criticizing you as a "spouse or partner, parent or employee."
  • The person exhibits jealousy.
  • He has threatened to hurt you, your pet(s), family members, friends or himself.
  • The person tries to prevent you from seeing your friends and family.
  • The person throws and damages belongings.
  • The person denies you access to "family assets like bank accounts, credit cards, or the car," tries to "control all finances" and demands you "account for what you spend."
  • Intimidation is used as a means to control you or your children.
  • Hitting, slapping, choking or biting.
  • The person controls where you can go.
  • The person makes you "have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually that you don’t want to do."
  • The person intentionally humiliates you in public.

You Recognize the Signs; Now What?

Chappell said that counseling is a good first step at reducing the risk of domestic violence to "get out what the problem is."

"No one should tolerate domestic violence," Rosensweig said. "Early intervention is imperative."

But if an individual feels he or she is in danger at any time, Chappell said that the best thing to do is leave to "diffuse the situation." That's better than arguing back, he said, and then the parties involved can try to talk when they are calmer.

If you are a family member or neighbor that has seen warning signs of domestic violence, Chappell recommends reaching out to the person to express your concern.

The Connecticut judicial website outlines the following changes to domestic violence legislation in blue, which are effective Oct. 1.

A summary of the public act amendment is also posted on the state website.

Resources for Domestic Violence Victims

Police are required to give domestic violence victims a Crime Victims' Rights card informing them of available resources. That includes:

  • Calling 1-877-VINE-4CT, the Office of Victim Services advocate: 1-800-822-8428 or registering online at www.vinelink.com for court event updates.
  • The Office of Victim Services: www.jud.ct.gov/crimevictim, 1-888-771-3126.
  • Domestic violence 24-hour toll free hotline: 1-888-774-2900
  • Sexual abuse 24-hour hotline:1-888-568-8332.

Other helpful resources include:

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