Committee releases recommendations on ways to combat domestic violence

Hartford — New London's Lynda Sanon, one of 14 women who died in 2011 at the hands of a current or former boyfriend or husband, fit the classic profile of a domestic violence victim.

Sanon, 26, was trying to break off a relationship with her controlling fiance, Evens St. Hilaire, when he fatally stabbed her in the neck, leaving her 2-year-old daughter motherless.

Sanon's case was one of those looked at by the Connecticut Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee, which is working to prevent future fatalities and honor Sanon and other victims and near-victims of intimate partner violence.

On Wednesday, the group released a wide-ranging list of recommendations during a press conference at the Legislative Office Building. The findings, written by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, focus on helping children and breaking the cycle of domestic violence.

Recommendations include implementing a validated, evidence-based screening program for physicians and other professionals to assess the traumatic effects of domestic violence on children and provide them with ongoing support. Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to become batterers themselves, commit suicide, use drugs and act out in a number of ways.

"It is the hope that physicians and other practitioners can see children's needs and intervene early," said Deputy Attorney General Nora Dannehy.

More than 15 million children in the United States witness domestic violence every year, and child abuse is 15 times more likely to occur in homes with so-called intimate partner violence, according to Joette Katz, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families. Katz said 63 Connecticut children were present at domestic violence homicide scenes between 2000 and 2011.

DCF has received a $3.2 million grant to train workers and community providers in trauma-focused care. The fatality review committee recommends that homicide detectives and others responding to a domestic violence fatality delay interviewing children until an Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Unit staff member arrives. EMPS staff responded to 13,844 calls in 2012 and provided care to 7,833 children, according to Katz.

The Domestic Violence Fatality Review committee studied 2011 fatalities because most of those cases have been adjudicated in court and the case information is available. In the Sanon case in New London, St. Hilaire, the killer, was sentenced last August to 29 years in prison. Sanon's daughter was not present during the crime.

State Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, chairman of the Speaker's Task Force on Domestic Violence, said it appears there were 11 intimate partner homicides in Connecticut in 2012.

Dr. Nina Livingston, a Connecticut Children's Medical Center pediatrician, said she recently treated a 6-month-old child with a depressed skull "who happened to be in the mother's arms when the father began punching her." Another child in the house was injured when he attempted to call for help, she said.

Kids who witness intimate partner violence exhibit internal symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, and external symptoms, such as aggression and oppositional defiance, Livingston said.

Other recommendations include implementing a Department of Public Health public awareness campaign that was approved by the General Assembly but never funded. The estimated cost is $500,000. The committee also recommends regular training of police and court staff who work with domestic violence victims, including the growing trend of batterers to use technology, such as cellphones and social media sites, to stalk and harass victims.

Technology has also been used as an effective tool to prevent domestic violence. Judicial districts in Hartford, Bridgeport and Danielson are participating in a pilot program that uses GPS monitoring to keep victims safe.

Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said some victims have been hesitant to take part in the program because it requires that their whereabouts be tracked in order to establish a "safety zone," but that the technology could be life-saving in some instances.

k.florin@theday.com

The committee's full report can be read at here.

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