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Domestic violence awareness, Georgia O'Keeffe on menu at Power of Purple lunch

Norwich — Attorney Sheila Horvitz said Thursday that victims of domestic violence and sexual assault were "in the shadows" when she began practicing divorce law in the 1970s.

"Though we have come a long way, there is so much further we have to go," Horvitz told a gathering of 130 at the third annual Power of Purple Luncheon, held this year at the Holiday Inn. The Power of Purple campaign to end domestic violence is a collaborative effort of the Rose Conrad Memorial Fund, Hadassah of Eastern Connecticut and Safe Futures.

One in four women in the U.S. will experience domestic violence, four are killed every day, and one in five teens and college-age women become victims of date rape, said Horvitz, who started the Rose Conrad Memorial Fund after Conrad, a client, was murdered by her husband in 2004. She went on to list equally startling statistics about child brides, genital mutilation and women forced into prostitution.

Horvitz and other pioneers of the region's efforts to prevent domestic violence and help those who are suffering rebuild their lives came together to celebrate their progress and renew their commitment to the work.

Another lawyer, Lois Andrews, recalled how she and a couple friends who started meeting in a musty basement room on the Avery Point campus in 1976 pooled their money to start a rape hotline. The women raised more money for a domestic violence hotline when they realized how many of the callers were "battered women," Andrews said. They went on to found the organization that was known for decades as The Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut.

Today the organization is known as Safe Futures. It has a $1.5 million budget and, in addition to 24-hour hotlines, provides its clients with shelter, transitional housing, counseling support groups and court-based advocacy. The agency's work is now recognized around the state and beyond. Later this year, Executive Director Katherine Verano and Groton Long Point Police Chief Jeffrey Nixon said they would be traveling to China, which has just passed its first domestic violence law, to provide training on the Lethality Assessment Program, a screening method started here four years ago to help police assess whether someone is at risk of being killed and help them get services immediately. The Paul Tsai China Center at the Yale University Law School will be paying for the trip.

The agency's collaboration with the medical community and the courts also was on display during the luncheon.

Dr. William Horgan, associate chief of the Emergency Department at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, said he has been helping to educate others in the medical profession about strangulation, often a precursor of homicide, after attending a Safe Futures program last year and realizing he knew very little about the topic.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Sarah E. Steere, who handles domestic violence cases in New London Superior Court, said 37 percent of the cases that come into the court known as Geographical Area (GA) 10 involve domestic violence. She said her office relies on help from police and the medical community in such cases.

Guests at the luncheon received a signed copy of "Georgia," a national best-seller by author Dawn Tripp, who was the featured speaker. Tripp, of New York City, said she became fascinated with painter Georgia O'Keeffe after seeing an exhibit of her work at the Whitney Museum in 2009. She spent the next six years researching the artist's life and her tempestuous relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, discovering that O'Keeffe, a woman everyone knows of, had pockets of her life that were not known at all. O'Keeffe suffered a nervous breakdown in 1932, realized she had lost touch with her own strength and vowed "never to compromise for anyone or to anyone" again, Tripp said.

"Women have this unique capacity to fall apart in order to reconstitute themselves," Tripp said.

Editor's Note: The story has been updated to indicate that attorney Sheila Horowitz began practicing in the 1970s. It also clarifies that a scheduled trip to China will be funded by the Paul Tsai China Center of the Yale University School of Law.


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