Although October—nationally, Domestic Violence Awareness Month—comes to a close next week, members of local police departments will continue working to bolster support and services for victims in months and years to come, thanks to some help from The Retreat, the East Hampton-based organization for victim services.
Once a year, The Retreat works with members of the East Hampton and Southampton town police forces to train officers on working with victims of domestic violence, said the non-profit’s director of advocacy, Cristina Bandos. The Retreat used to work with other local departments, she said, but the coordination and accommodation became difficult on both ends, since many departments are understaffed.
“We spend about an hour and a half talking about different scenarios of domestic violence and giving them ideas and a little more insight of the behavior of the victim, the perpetrator, and when children are involved,” said Ms. Bandos.
Ms. Bandos has been working with The Retreat for the past 10 years and has seen the landscape of victims and the nature of their abuse change drastically in recent years. Subsequently, she said, the training the organization offers to police is revised yearly to better prepare officers for working with victims.
Over the past two years, Ms. Bandos said, many of the victims she sees come through The Retreat are Latinas, and often fear contacting police for help because they are living in the United States illegally.
“The number-one fear is deportation,” she said. “A lot of these women don’t want to talk to police or say anything, because they’re afraid of being deported, or that their abuser will be deported and they won’t have the ability to provide for their children.”
Many Hispanic women won’t trust police for that reason, she said, and don’t want to offer any information. To try and foster the trust, Ms. Bandos said The Retreat suggests that officers remind victims that they should be forthcoming with their situations if there are children involved to avoid Child Protective Services intervening.
“It’s not necessarily a threat,” she said of reminding victims that CPS could get involved, “but we do try to explain to people that this could lead to a larger issue, because it’s the truth.”
Officers are also told to remind victims that if they don’t want to press criminal charges against their abusers, they do have the option to go to family court and ask for an order of protection. “This way, they’re giving their abuser the chance to obey the law,” she said, as an incentive to get victims afraid of deportation to talk and provide victims with relief from the perpetrator.
Ms. Bandos said that The Retreat has seen more than a 100-percent increase in services over the past year. In an email, East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said there were 298 cases reported to police that were classified as domestic disputes in 2013 in East Hampton, and 198 so far in 2014.
Many of the victims, said Ms. Bandos, aren’t aware of the protection they are afforded by the court—another part of the training The Retreat offers to the police department. “So many times, orders of protection are being violated and victims don’t even know it,” she said.
More recently, electronic contact has been added to orders of protection, barring perpetrators from contacting victims via email, text or social media. But proving an order has been violated, she said, can be challenging, since many abusers will claim their accounts have been hacked.
Southampton Town Police Sergeant Susan Ralph said the town also refers victims to a domestic violence advocate, who will accompany the victims in any legal proceedings. “The police department is just the initial contact—we do the arrest or take the reports,” said Sergeant Ralph.
Chief Sarlo said the East Hampton department, like Southampton, works closely with The Retreat to share information on victims’ legal rights, and to inform victims when the accused is arraigned, if he has been released, and what the parameters are for orders of protection.
“I’ve had officers call me at 10 o’clock at night and say, ‘Hey, you know what? The woman that was doing the report today, we made the arrest, tomorrow he’ll be arraigned—the client doesn’t have to be there. We’ll call at a certain time and let you know what happened.’ We have a lot of officers who do care, and they go the extra mile.”