Mayor’s task force focusing on rise in domestic violence during pandemic

  • Greenfield City Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2020 3:54:26 PM

GREENFIELD — Mayor Roxann Wedegartner’s Task Force on Domestic Violence is reaching out to the public with information on how to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen a rise in domestic violence cases.

Abusers are exploiting the health crisis and its induced isolation to further exert control over victims, according to task force Chair Mary Kociela. The task force, started about 15 years ago under the administration of Christine Forgey, Greenfield’s first mayor, has publicly released safety tips as a type of lifeline for people, and plans to launch a campaign in October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“We have been very concerned about the level of domestic violence and wanted to make sure citizens of Greenfield had information about what they could do (to protect themselves),” said Kociela, who is also the director of domestic and sexual violence projects for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office

According to the task force, the pandemic’s added daily stresses — such as having to stay home more often, financial insecurities, job-related changes, child care and school changes — can further compromise a victim’s safety.

“During this time, abusive partners may withhold necessary items such as sanitizers or insurance information,” a statement from the seven-member Task Force on Domestic Violence reads. “They may also escalate isolation tactics or prevent one from seeking medical help. All of these situations pose a greater risk for victims/survivors in our community.”

Kociela and task force member Mark Williams, deputy chief of the Greenfield Police Department, said the severity of domestic violence calls has increased dramatically since mid-March, when the state began taking measures to try to curb the spread of the COVID-19.

“We’re trying to keep it in the front of people’s minds and keep people aware of it, even if they don’t experience it first-hand themselves,” Williams said, adding that many have no idea when they have a friend or co-worker who lives in an abusive environment.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an average of nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. This equals more than 10 million in a year. The coalition also reports one in four women and one in nine men experience “severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking, with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services (and) contraction of sexually transmitted diseases.”

Kociela explained next month’s campaign will include two billboards — one near the CVS on Federal Street and the other near the overpass at the start of Deerfield Street — but declined to reveal what they will depict. She also said results of a questionnaire will be posted on Greenfield’s municipal website.

The Task Force on Domestic Violence recently released pointers for people who believe they may be in an abusive situation.

“Advocates can help you to think about your personal situation and work with you to create a safety plan,” the statement reads, adding that a safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that identifies ways to remain safe while in a relationship, whether you are planning to stay or leave. “It may include telling a trusted neighbor or friend, identifying a place to stay if you need to leave quickly or thinking about ways to stay safe in your home if your partner becomes physically abusive.”

Free and confidential help is available at Montague Catholic Social Ministries in Turners Falls at 413-863-4804, The Salasin Project in Greenfield at 413-774-4307, and the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT) hotline at 413-772-0806. The NELCWIT hotline operates 24/7.

The Task Force on Domestic Violence typically meets in the Town Hall Meeting Room at 1 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month, though the pandemic has forced these meetings to be conducted via Zoom. For more information on the task force, visit bit.ly/3iUfPWf.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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