Conference aims to boost support for domestic violence victims

Hartford — A photo of Richard Shenkman was placed at the security desk. Locks were placed on doors. Employees were instructed on what to do if Shenkman showed up to the office. Phone calls were screened, preventing constant harassment.

This is what attorney Nancy P. Tyler said O’Brien Tanski & Young, the law firm where she works, did to protect her.

“When I was going through what I went through, work was my safe place,” she said. “It was one of the only places where I could be a normal human being.”

Tyler, a survivor of domestic abuse and kidnapping, spoke at a news conference that the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal held at the Capitol on Friday afternoon.

The goal of the gathering, which was a response to the recent resignations of two White House staffers over domestic violence allegations, was to highlight how employers can support victims of domestic violence. In 2015, women in southeastern Connecticut made up 24 percent of offenders in family violence incidents but 71 percent of victims, according to a recently released report commissioned by the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut that details inequities faced by women in New London and Windham counties.

In July of 2006, Tyler served Shenkman with a restraining order following threatening behavior from her then-husband.

After Shenkman was charged with first-degree arson for burning their second home in Niantic, and after the divorce trial, Tyler was on her way to court — alone — when Shenkman kidnapped her and held her hostage in his house for nearly 13 hours.

Tyler escaped. Shenkman had told her the doorway was wired with explosives, and the house went up in flames shortly thereafter.

While Tyler cites the support of her co-workers, attorney Michael Rigg looks back on how much he didn’t know. He always thought of domestic abuse as physical but hadn’t considered the mental component. And after the kidnapping, O’Brien Tanski & Young employees made sure Tyler never went to court alone again.

Rigg added that supporting victims of domestic violence is “good for business, by the way, because the employee becomes more productive the more she feels supported.”

Joe Gianni, president of the Hartford market for Bank of America, talked about what his company has done to support victims of domestic violence, such as offering confidential counseling, paid sick days and, if necessary, relocation.

He added that Bank of America created a domestic violence task force in 2013.

Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said other corporations largely have been hesitant to speak about domestic violence. She’s not entirely sure why but intends to find out.

Jarmoc noted that some employers don’t have a domestic violence policy but are receptive to learning more.

She said that warning signs in the workplace might include a husband visiting frequently, because “domestic violence is about power and control,” and a woman inexplicably being out of work often.

The news conference was called following the resignations of White House staff secretary Rob Porter and speechwriter David Sorensen amid domestic violence allegations.

Porter’s second wife had a protective order against him, and his first wife produced photographs of herself with a black eye, which she said was from Porter punching her. Sorensen’s ex-wife told the FBI that Sorensen put out a cigarette on her hand and ran over her foot while driving.

On Feb. 9, two days after Porter’s resignation, President Donald Trump said of Porter, “We certainly wish him well. It's obviously a very tough time for him. He did a very good job while he was in the White House.”

On Wednesday, Trump told reporters, “I am totally opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that.”

Those present at Friday's news conference expressed disgust at the White House’s response.

“I’ve actually been impressed by the bipartisan revulsion to the White House’s absolutely repugnant conduct in repeatedly hiring men who have committed domestic violence,” Blumenthal said. He added, “Domestic violence is not a partisan issue. There’s nothing partisan about beating a wife or partner, or sexual assault. That is a betrayal of American values.”

He voiced support for the Healthy Families Act, which allows paid sick time to be used for an “absence resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.”

e.moser@theday.com

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