New London vigil for domestic violence victims
New London — Survivors of domestic violence and their supporters stood together outside Safe Futures' office on Jay Street Thursday evening, cradling candles, to remember those who lost their lives and spread the message that help is available for those who feel alone and frightened.
About 45 people — women, men and children — attended the agency's second annual candlelight vigil, themed, "We will not forget."
Relatives of six victims of domestic violence homicide lit their candles first, standing together around a bench bearing photographs of the people they miss so painfully as their names were spoken, one by one. They remained together, with the rest of the assembly lighting candles as keyboardist Michael Zaitchik performed "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton.
Remembered were: Antonio Chajon, 39, of New London, who was fatally strangled by his roommate in 2013; Delma Murphy, 46, of New London, stabbed to death by her longtime partner in 2015; Diana Hodgdon, 58, of Norwich, fatally shot by her husband in 2015; Margarette Mady, 42, of Norwich, who was pregnant when, police say, her husband fatally stabbed her in 2016; Corina Zukowski, 25, of Waterford, was fatally stabbed in a motel room in 2018, allegedly by her boyfriend; and Robert Parise, 63, of new London, who was fatally stabbed, police say, by his boyfriend in 2018.
The solemnity of the event was tempered by a number of survivors in attendance: women who had taken their children and left abusive partners to begin new lives with support from Safe Futures.
Victoria Evans, 26, living in the agency's supportive housing, called Phoenix House, said her abuser's method was strangling, and that it opened her eyes when he started kicking her while she was pregnant. Ashley Clarke, 29, also living in Phoenix House, said she was the victim of stalking by a former partner who "would not take no for an answer" when she left him.
"I just want people to be aware it puts people into a traumatic state of mind," she said.
Ayfer Kaya, whose ex-husband sneaked into her New London home in 2003, and shot her and her boyfriend, killing the boyfriend, stood with her daughter, Sevda Kalican, who was just seven when her father committed the crimes. Kaya has healed and said all three of her children are thriving.
"There should be more and more and more people here," said Kaya. "It's the most important thing of the year."
Katherine Verano, executive director of Safe Futures, said people tell her all the time that they love what the agency does, but they don't know anybody impacted by domestic violence.
"You know what I say to them? I'm sure you do," Verano said. One in four women and one in seven men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, she said. Safe Futures served more than 7,000 people last year.
Agency board member and longtime supporter Jeff Nixon and his wife, Kay, were at the vigil along with several of Nixon's criminal justice students from Three Rivers Community Technical College.
Joseph Parise, brother of victim Robert Parise and a police chaplain, asked people not to do what he used to do, change the channel or move on to a more pleasant newspaper article, when there was a difficult story about domestic violence.
"We are facing an epidemic of violence in our society, and we're violent against each other, and its unacceptable," Parise said.
The number of family violence incidents reported in Connecticut increased slightly in 2018, to 16,954 from 16,845 the previous year, according to a family violence arrest report released Thursday by the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That number is low compared to the 38,000 victims who sought help in 2018 from the coalition's 18 service providers, one of which is Safe Futures.
Intimate partner violence, between spouses/former spouses, dating/former dating partners, and individuals who share a child in common, accounts for 76.5 percent of the family violence incidents and have risen steadly since 2013, according to the CCADV. Also, according to the report:
• Women make up at least 78% of victims in incidents of intimate partner violence;
• Individuals in dating relationships constitute the majority of reported incidents of intimate partner violence;
• "Hands, fists, feet, etc." are the most frequently used "weapon" in incidents of intimate partner violence
• Reported incidents of family violence most often occur at nights and on the weekends, as well as during the summer months.