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In the wake of violent homicides in 2019, a look at domestic violence across the state

In 2019, women killed by their former partners were leaving their relationships.

HARTFORD, Conn. — According to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is predictable.

“And we all know that the most dangerous time in a relationship is when you are leaving,” says the President and CEO of Interval House, Mary-Jane Foster.

In 2019, women killed by their former partners were leaving their relationships. According to Foster, the statistics are compiled for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection by a group of law enforcement, judges, lawyers, and other highly trained people who look at every aspect of a case, including public and non-public records.

New Canaan mother of five, Jennifer Dulos, presumed killed by her estranged husband, Fotis, was leaving her marriage. The two were involved in a custody battle dating back more than two years at the time of her disappearance. Perrie Mason’s ex-boyfriend, Jason Watson, is the prime suspect in her disappearance. He was already arrested on domestic violence charges several days before Mason’s remains were found in the woods near where Watson worked in Waterbury.

RELATED: A timeline of the Jennifer Dulos investigation

RELATED: Suspect in killing of mother of two due back in court

Experts say the recent killings in the state are more violent than in past years.

“Guns have always been predominately the use of force in domestic violence homicides. That’s dropped to where we’re seeing more knives, hands and fists, for example,” says Karen Jarmoc, the President and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Christine Holloway was found beaten to death in her Ansonia home. Her boyfriend, Jose Morales, plead not guilty to her murder. Their daughter, Vanessa, is still missing.

RELATED: Ansonia murder and missing baby suspect in court

“Those are very intimate crimes, very emotional type crimes and is something you would expect to see in a domestic violence homicide,” says Brian Foley, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection’s Public Information Officer. “And this year, unfortunately, there’s been a lot of those types of homicides.”

Domestic violence is predictable, but even as the leading state in the nation pushing for domestic violence reform, it is not proven preventable in Connecticut. The violence of the homicides and closeness in proximity are partly why it feels like there were more in 2019. Another reason is the presence of a high profile case.

“When you have a case that’s a very high profile case, it sheds a light on the other homicides as well as on the topic of intimate partner violence,” says Foster. “So, it’s heightened awareness for sure."

This map highlights stories about 2019 cases. Zoom in to Connecticut for details.

According to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 14 people, including Jennifer Dulos, are suspected to have been killed by their partner—an average number for the state. Intimate partner violence homicides accounted for 13 percent of the state’s homicide rate from 2000-2017. Nearly 90 percent of victims are women.

Most of the domestic violence deaths in the state happened in the latter half of the year, but it’s Jennifer Dulos’ case that has gripped the state and the nation. It may help change laws in custody cases in civil courts going forward.

“The parties come in with parody. They’re equal. And the court always considers the best interest of the child and the best interest of the child is deemed to be two parents working collaboratively together for the best interest of the child,” says Foster, who is also a lawyer and has represented victims of domestic violence. “When you have domestic violence present in a relationship, that skews the dynamics.”

Jennifer Dulos lived in State Senator Alex Bergstein’s district. Bergstein is proposing a Child Safety First Bill to level those dynamics in civil court.

“Violence and abuse must be considered before other factors in custody cases,” says Bergstein (D-Greenwich).

Currently, the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Interval House are working to prevent domestic violence through education. They say domestic violence is a learned behavior.

“The most important piece about domestic violence is that we all have to get into the business of preventing it,” says Foster. “And to prevent it, you have to begin working with children. All of the studies, whether it’s the CDC or other studies, show that children who experience family violence repeat it because they don’t know that it’s not the norm.”

Interval House runs music and art therapy programs to help children affected by domestic violence and to help a mother bond with her child. CCDAV is reaching out to another age group.

“We just launched in September of 2019 a program called ‘Coaching Boys Into Men’,” says Jarmoc. “It’s a national model where there are a number of coaches in Connecticut who are using an evidence based curricula to talk to their male players around these concepts about non-violence toward women.”

Thirty years ago, Tracey Thurman took law enforcement head on when she sued the Torrington Police Department in Federal Court for ignoring her calls for help when her now ex-husband beat her. The last attack in 1983 landed her in the hospital for eight months. She still uses a walker today. Since then, Connecticut’s progressive laws have influenced domestic violence reform nationwide. Connecticut recently became the first state to have 100% participation in the Lethality Assessment Program, a questionnaire officers use to evaluate the severity of a domestic situation.

RELATED: Woman who helped change the public perception of domestic violence in Connecticut honored

“This lethality assessment gives the officers on hand an immediate looking glass into how dangerous that situation is and hopefully make a positive change to get the victim out of those circumstances,” says Foley.

The program also connects victims to resources at domestic violence agencies across the state.

“The difference with this tool is we know of the victim and how to reach the victim,” says Foster.

Tracey Thurman’s case changed the way law enforcement, lawmakers, and the criminal court system look at and treat domestic violence. Jennifer Dulos and the 13 other people killed in 2019 will leave their own legacy in raising awareness, connecting victims to needed resources, and making society’s intermediaries work together.

Jennifer Dulos and the 13 other victims killed in 2019 will leave their own legacy in raising awareness, connecting victims to needed resources, and making society’s intermediaries work together.

“If we have the support of the legislature and the judiciary and the social service agencies that can be resources to these families, then we all come together and it works well and we change lives,” says Foster. “That’s why we’re in this business.”

If nothing else, it will remind everyone that domestic violence can happen to anyone.

“It doesn’t matter what race you are, what religion you are, what your faith beliefs are, what your background is, education, socioeconomic,” says Foster. “It can happen anywhere and it does.”

For a more in-depth look at the state of our domestic violence laws and to hear from a woman whose tragic experience with domestic violence led her to help countless women in their fight against domestic violence, you can download and subscribe to "Expect More Now" on any podcast platform, including Google Play, Spotify and Apple Podcasts. You also can listen to the latest episode here.

Credit: WTIC

Nearly 40,000 people reach out to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence ever year. If you or someone you know needs help, here are some resources: 

Child Safety First Bill 

CCADV – Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Futures Without Violence

United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women

NDVH – National Domestic Violence Hotline

For a summary of Connecticut domestic violence laws, see CT Judicial Branch Law Libraries guide

Domestic Violence Hotlines

Domestic Violence Shelter

Spouse/Domestic Partner Abuse Counseling

Temporary Restraining Orders

Domestic Violence Support Groups

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